All Grass Wintering – Phase II

All grass wintering of Sheep: extension to less favoured grass growing areas 2013-14

Project number:                   73209

Lead contractor:                  SAC Commercial Ltd

Start & end date:                  30 September 2013 – October 2014

 

The Problem:

Improved grassland utilisation could result in feed savings for many sheep farms in England.  All grass wintering (AGW) is a winter grazing strategy where sheep are managed at high stocking densities but moved daily during the winter.  It is based on the idea of maximum carrying capacity for minimum time to increase utilisation and reduce the requirement for conserved forages and concentrates.

After an encouraging pilot on one farm during winter 2011-12, an EBLEX-funded project illustrated its applicability on a further six farms in south west England during winter 2012-13.  Knowledge of AGW applicability to other farms with low/zero winter grass growth and over several winters is required to refine recommendations.  Changing management practises such as four day shifting instead of daily, may make the system less labour intensive and therefore more attractive to other farmers.

 

Aims and Objectives:

Aims:

1) Determine how AGW performs on other farms across the UK

2) Understand how AGW performs over multiple winters for farms already practising

3) Refine recommendations through demonstration activity

 

Objectives:

1) Validate four day shift system as alternative to daily shifts

2) Develop templates for planning winter and summer grazing rotations

3) Collect detailed case studies (with financial details) from summer and winter systems

4) Film videos of AGW systems (EBLEX to organise and pay for this)

5) Collect winter grass growth data

6) Review BRP+ document after 2103-14 winter experiences

7) Advanced on farm events on winter and summer grazing strategies with detailed financial cost:benefit assessment

 

Approach:

During winter 2013-14, a new group of four AGW demonstration farmers will be set up in North England and an additional two farmers will be recruited to the existing group in South West England.  SAC Consulting will visit the new farms, calculate the winter budget and provide advice on how to set up the system.  SAC Consulting will facilitate open EBLEX BRP+ events to report the progress of the trial to other farmers.   A series of other knowledge transfer outputs will be delivered throughout the year including case studies, articles and YouTube videos.  This will ensure that other farmers wishing to try AGW are fully informed as the demonstration activity progresses and issues arise.

 

Results:

Severe flooding affected the southern farmers who had to resort to Plan B‘ with indoor housing, conserved forage and off- farm grazing land.  Through necessity, these farmers still benefited from the high grass growth on the higher land and were able to graze the same fields multiple times over the winter.  The system worked well for the northern farmers with mild weather and 10 kg dry matter/ha grass growth average through the winter.  Although not quantified, the improvements in the pasture quality were notable.  Many of the demonstration farmers continued the rotational grazing into the summer to improve lamb finishing.    As it was demonstration activity, it was difficult to calculate robust cost-benefits, however demonstration farm purchased feed costs (£2.90-7.14/ewe) were substantially lower than the £12.77/ewe average calculated in EBLEX Stocktake 2014.  Labour for fencing and movements ranged from 2.5 to 16 hours per week.  

 

Outcomes and next steps:

    • The outcomes from the project include an updated BRP+ document, other articles and presentations and a large pictorial library. However more important is the knowledge that has been learnt that will now be able to be imparted to others contemplating the system
    • There is potential to include AGW as an integral part of most lowland and upland sheep systems and its use should be encouraged on sheep farms that join EBLEX grazing groups. In addition a separate category for AGW flocks should be considered for future EBLEX Stocktake costings to highlight the economic benefits of AGW
    • The potential to improve pasture by grazing management needs to be explored further with particular reference to swards that have deteriorated due to lax grazing management, possibly as a result of stocking restrictions imposed by environmental scheme requirements
    • The discipline of rationing grass using a swardstick/plate meter during the winter period and confidence gained in the approach has led to most participants continuing with it in summer rotations
    • Summer rotations offer even greater financial rewards from faster lamb finishing and better quality silage, so AGW has been an effective lever to get farmers started at making more of grass
    • For the future AGW is a clear entry point for further development work on low cost lamb from grass with less labour and concentrate input
    • Significant input to farm visits by New Zealand consultants Trevor Cook and Murray Rohloff were particularly valuable to discussions and assessing priorities of participants and if possible should be continued