All Grass Wintering

Development of an all-grass wintering system for breeding ewes 2012 – 13 

Project number:                73204

Lead contractor:               Scottish Rural University College

Start & end date:               31 July 2012 – 29 June 2013

 

The Problem: 

The challenges of rising feed costs and pressures to reduce environmental impact can be alleviated through improved grassland utilisation.  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.

The success and potential for this strategy to work on UK farms has been illustrated on one farm in Cornwall with 950 New Zealand Romney ewes (Norton Farm).  Knowledge of AGW applicability to other farms representing various regions of England is required before we can determine its widespread viability.

 

Aims and Objectives:

Project Aims

  • To determine the potential for widespread application of AGW in England, with adaptation measures investigated for different system types
  • To reduce farm expenditure on bought in concentrates by maximising on farm forage potential
  • To encourage improved grassland management via feed budgeting using grassland productivity measurements and stock requirement calculations
  • To provide other farmers with information on the practical application of AGW.

Deliverables

Increased knowledge of the applicability of AGW in the UK, plus understanding of adjustments required to overcome various challenges.

Vast knowledge transfer in the form of press coverage, BRP literature and producer group meetings to increase farmer awareness.

Greater understanding of a potential strategy to reduce farm costs and improve efficiency.

 

Approach:

Following press coverage of Norton farm AGW system, an event will be held and a producer group of up to 15 members will be established.  Four farms (including Norton farm) will practise AGW during winter 2012/2013 following initial training and grassland regeneration where appropriate.  Open facilitated farm meetings will be held on these farms to demonstrate the system, through which the group will discuss various development programme topics, such as soil problems, assessment of winter grass growth, and receive training on feed budgeting and grassland measurement tools.

The demonstration farmers will assess grassland dry matter availability at least three times on their respective farms; initially to set up the feed budget and twice in the winter to monitor supply.  Herbage will be assessed for trace element shortages and appropriate supplementation be put in place.  Fields to be used will be planned and mapped to monitor the rotation and check appropriate infrastructure put in place.

Health plans and parasite monitoring programmes will be discussed with the farmers.  Farms will be visited twice per winter to provide technical support

 

Results:

Outcomes

AGW during winter 2012-13 resulted in no effect on lambing performance . The estimated cost-benefit is £15-17 per ewe mainly due to feed savings. It took farmers 3.5 to 7 hours to set up the paddocks a week ahead and then 5 to 20 minutes to move each day – for some this is an increase in labour requirements, but for others this is not, it depends on how the flock is normally fed during the winter.

Issues

During the snow spell, livestock were moved onto sacrifice‘ fields and fed hay or silage, however the utilisation of this forage was low. In wet weather the stocking density was reduced or the animals were moved again to sacrifice fields.

Where this did not happen, farmers observed that compaction may have reduced pasture productivity (nb. this was not measured or analysed during this trial). No major health issues emerged, due to health planning and close monitoring. Health risks might be increased with higher stocking density and greater reliance on grass, therefore close monitoring was recommended.

Farmer Recommendations

All Grass Wintering is a cost effective outwintering strategy for flock sizes of 350-1200 ewes, on a large convenient block of land with well drained soils. It requires high management input at the start to ensure feed supply is sufficient and a contingency plan for adverse weather is in place. The system has been successful for a number of breeds from mules to NZ Romney; selection and culling of breeding ewes according to how well they perform on the system will help develop a flock well suited to AGW. The development work serves as a good starting point, yet more is required to develop conclusive recommendations for English farmers. As the system develops on farm so will knowledge on the farms grass growth which will help fine tune the system.

Planned Activity

A BRP+ guidance document is underway with accompanying press material.

A BRP+ event is planned for August