Roger Hutchings, Cropvale Trials Manager, shares his thoughts on winter, latest news from the site and an overview of the tasks he’ll be tackling in the weeks ahead.
Like most parts of the UK it was a strange winter at Cropvale, which is located near Evesham in Worcestershire. December was particularly mild, leaving too much cover going into a colder and wet late winter. This left all but the very newest sowings looking in need of sun and feed. The new Italians, sowed in autumn 2015, seemed to thrive in the conditions and will be ready for their first cut in early April. While one or two Westerwolds look well going into a second season some have disappeared completely.
Rabbits can be a problem at Cropvale and we noticed they were feasting on some of our Italians over the winter. To address this we put rabbit wire around the whole field. This seems to have done the trick, although our neighbour’s field now looks a little bare!
In terms of current work, early spring is, of course, a busy time at Cropvale. Typical jobs at this time of year include fertiliser applications, line marking, early cuts, path mowing and new sowings. While the list of tasks is long, putting the legwork in now will pay dividends later in the season – hopefully resulting in some useful data.
Read on to find out more about the latest trials getting underway at Cropvale.
New trial activity
This year we’ve got some interesting new trial plots going in at Cropvale:
We are in the process of sowing some Brassica demonstration plots – a first for the site. Throughout the year we’ll be comparing growth on a plot managed via a low input system and one where we’ll follow recommended management advice.
In the next week or two we’ll be taking delivery of a quantity of NutriFibre from our Dutch colleagues. NutriFibre is a product based on a soft-leaf tall fescue, which ensures optimum rumen activity. With a high field value, NutriFibre is recognised for its ability to boost the production of milk with high fat and protein levels. NutriFibre has proved popular on the continent for the last three or four years so we are keen to see how it will fare at Cropvale.
Alongside the new sowings we are putting in a green manure option. We are looking at species with deep roots they are renowned for their ability to improve soil structure and producing lots of organic matter mean they are also good for soil fertility.
Watch this space for more news from our Cropvale trials in due course.
Italian ryegrasses can boost spring pasture production - Dairy NZ
Italian or short-rotation ryegrasses offer a pasture renewal opportunity which can kick-start the milking season, according to research led by AgResearch senior scientist David Stevens and scientist Andrew Wall.
Short rotation ryegrasses have greater cool season growth potential than perennial ryegrass.
However, they have shorter lifespans and are less persistent.
Using short-rotation ryegrasses as part of a pasture renewal strategy can boost spring pasture production, decreasing reliance on supplements.
Researchers used shorter grazing intervals to maintain pasture quality.
Short rotation ryegrasses have potential to provide extra production to spring-calving dairy farm systems. They have a greater cool season growth potential1,2 and have superior dry matter (DM) production over winter and early spring when compared with perennial ryegrass3. Some studies have also indicated that herbage may be of a higher feed value during the winter and early spring period4, 5, 6.
Short-rotation ryegrasses could help address low pasture growth rates in early spring and their higher DM production could translate into increased pasture DM intake and increased milk production. The greater cool season activity of short-rotation ryegrasses also allows these species to take up more plant-available nitrogen (N) in the soil over late-autumn, winter, and early-spring, when the risk of N leaching is greatest7, 8.
However, there has been little research done to test short-rotation ryegrass performance on farms, where environmental and managerial conditions can prevent pasture species growing to their full potential9, 10, 11. Also, short-rotation ryegrasses do have some drawbacks including typically having a short lifespan (1-3 years) and persistency issues in dry summer conditions, especially if over grazed in summer. From the limited number of paddock/whole-farm system evaluations using short-rotation ryegrasses on seasonal dairy farms, the results have varied considerably2, 12, 13.
Based on this, the greatest benefit from short-rotation ryegrasses would probably be as part of a pasture renewal programme, augmenting perennial ryegrass-based pastures to meet feed supply requirements of seasonal spring-calving dairy farm systems.
Using short-rotation grasses as part of a pasture renewal programme
We evaluated early-spring pasture supply and milk production of a seasonal calving dairy farmlet, where 20-30 percent of the milking platform was planted in short-rotation ryegrass as part of an annual pasture renewal programme.
The trial was conducted at the Telford Farm Training Institute in Balclutha, New Zealand, as part of the Pastoral 21 Next Generation Dairy Systems research funded by MBIE, DairyNZ, Fonterra, DCANZ and Beef + Lamb NZ.
A 39ha demonstration farmlet was established carrying 110 cows over the milking season, peaking at 2.8 cows/ha during November. Planned start of calving was August 24, with an aim to have all cows calving at BCS 5 or greater. Cows were dried off in April/May at a minimum BCS of 3.5. The herd was rotationally grazed, with pasture and supplement allocated on a daily basis.
Both whole-crop cereal silage and short-rotation ryegrass (cultivars Shogun NEA endophyte and Tabu nil endophyte) were planted on this farmlet as complementary forages to the existing perennial ryegrass-based pastures. The crop (barley) was sown in mid-to-late November, harvested in mid-February, and fed to cows in autumn as a supplement to fill any feed supply deficit.
The short-rotation ryegrass was used as a two-to-three year pasture option following the crop and sown shortly after the crop was harvested.
More grass grown
Short-rotation ryegrasses provided more feed in spring, as was predicted (Table 1). This increase of 10kg DM/ha/day translated into more grazing days/ha, as reflected in the grazing record and the lack of supplement fed, but not significantly different milk production per cow (19.1kg compared with 19.2kg milk/day for perennial ryegrass pastures). This may have been due to the pasture allocation/grazing management processes, with frequent switching of grazing between the two pasture types.
Additional analysis, however, indicated an upward trend in milk production when more continuous grazing days of short-rotation ryegrass were able to be achieved in any two week period. This effect added another 0.103kg milk/day for every extra full grazing day. This indicates that a greater proportion of the farm should be sown in short-rotation grasses in order for their traits to be more fully expressed and to allow the cows to adjust to the different feed type. A balance between perennial and short rotation ryegrass will be best.
Managing short-rotation ryegrasses
The pasture growth of the short rotation ryegrasses was significantly greater in spring. However, more N fertiliser was used on the short-rotation ryegrass (approximately 60kg N/ha) than on the perennial pastures (approximately 30kg N/ha). The extra N was used in late spring to encourage the development of new tillers in the post-heading phase in an attempt to improve summer production and persistence. This would have boosted summer production of the short rotation ryegrass. Using the industry standard N response of 10kg DM/kg N, the extra N applied would equate to 3kg DM/ha/d grown by the short rotation ryegrass in summer. This may explain why there was no difference between the perennial and the short rotation ryegrass in summer, when lower production from short rotation ryegrass would be expected.
Winter growth of the short-rotation ryegrass appeared to be affected by the establishment technique. The planned approach of sowing after harvesting the crop led to relatively late sowing and emergence dates (late March and early April). This meant pasture was still too immature for grazing before autumn rains saturated the soil, resulting in the pastures entering winter as recently germinated seedlings. In the final year of the study, a change to under-sowing the crop with the pasture mix in spring created a pasture that provided two grazings in autumn, increasing total DM production of the short-rotation ryegrass. This tactic is also likely to improve pasture production in the first winter.
Due to the higher potential growth rate of short-rotation ryegrasses in spring, shorter grazing intervals were needed to prevent the rapid development of seedhead as pasture cover increased above approximately 2600kg DM/ha in spring. We found that, if left to accumulate above 3000kg DM/ha, the feed quality declined and the targeted post-grazing residuals of 1500 kg DM/ha were harder to achieve.
Get A Load Of Our Manure Guide
By Brian Barth on May 28, 2015
Manure is nature’s fertilizer. But beyond that simple truth is a world of complexity. Not all manures are created equally, and knowing the difference is a key to proper use. Choosing manure is a bit like choosing ingredients for a meal. The smell, texture and species of origin say a lot about how it will influence the overall composition—in this case, of the soil.
The most important point to consider when choosing manure is how much nitrogen it has in it. Most manures have so much nitrogen they will ‘burn’ the roots of plants, making the leaves brown and stunted rather than green and lush. These are called ‘hot’ manures and must always be composted with carbon-rich materials, like leaves or straw, before they are applied to the soil.
Approximate carbon-to-nitrogen ratios of select manures:
Cow – 25-1
Horse – 20-1
Sheep – 15-1
Swine – 12-1
People – 10-1
Poultry – 7-1
Some manures—mainly from large herbivores like horses and cows—already have the ideal carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of 25-to-1, meaning they can be tilled directly into the soil without worry of overfertilising. These ‘cool’ manures tend to be crumbly with bits of grass still visible in them. The hottest manures come from omnivores, like chickens and pigs, and are stinkier and slimier than those with less nitrogen.
There is a spectrum of potency in herbivore manure. In general, the more grass an animal has in its diet, the lower the nitrogen content. Animals that like to eat woody plants (goats) or vegetables (rabbits) have more concentrated nutrients in their feces.
Herbivore manure is relatively cool and is fair game for using in the garden without composting first, though in most cases it’s best to age the manure for at least a month or two before using.
Manure from dairy cows is a good bet for using straight and fresh in the garden—it’s ok to just spread a thin layer of it over the soil and till it in. Steer manure (from cows raised for beef) is usually richer (i.e. higher nitrogen) because the animals are fed and cared for differently and should be aged or composted before use.
Horse droppings are slightly richer than cow patties, so they are typically composted before using in the garden. Weed seeds pass right through a horse’s digestive system and may sprout in the garden if the manure is used directly, but the heat generated in a compost pile renders them inviable. If you’re not worried about weeds, it’s OK to till it in fresh and let it decompose in the soil for a month or so before planting.
Goat, Sheep, Llama and Alpaca
Unlike the loose crumbly dung of cows and horses, goat, sheep, llama and alpaca manure comes in the form of hard pellets. Those pellets pack plenty of nitrogen and need to be aged or composted before tilling into the soil.
Manure from these animals is typically collected together with their bedding material (i.e. straw), which provides the carbon source needed to balance their nitrogen content. Bedding from these animals is a compost pile ready to happen.
However, it is safe to use the bedding material as mulch around fruit trees, vines and berry bushes, where it will age in place with the nutrients slowly leaching into the soil. This is much simpler than tending to a compost pile, and the pelletized form of these manures usually means odors are minimal.
One side note about sheep manure is that it has a higher potassium content than most other manures, making it the ideal fertilizer for potassium-loving crops like asparagus.
Rabbit poop wins the prize as the most concentrated herbivore manure. Rabbits don’t produce poop in the quantity of larger animals, so consider it a special commodity and use it sparingly on vegetable seedlings as a nitrogen boost. Soak rabbit poop in water for 48 hours and apply as a dilute liquid fertilizer.
You may not think of chickens and pigs as omnivores, but technically they are, even if bugs and worms are the only types of meat they’re eating. They have much hotter manure than herbivores that should never be used directly, not even as mulch. It’s best to compost omnivore manure thoroughly before using, rather than aging it.
Pig poop is the mildest omnivore manure in terms of nitrogen content. Mixed at a 1-to-1 ratio with straw, it makes a well-balanced compost pile. One interesting aspect of pig poop is its high pH level: use it to help make acidic soils more neutral (i.e. closer to 7 on the pH scale, which is what most crops prefer).
Birds poop and pee in one package, making their manure slimy, stinky and very high in nutrients. Chicken, pigeon, duck, turkey and other poultry manures need composting before they are used: mix them with straw at a 1-to-4 ratio for a well-balanced compost pile.
Poultry manures, especially from chickens, are higher in phosphorus than other manures, which is the most important nutrient for flower and fruit development. Use the compost as a nutrient boost for your flower beds or turn it into a liquid fertilizer and apply it to fruiting plants just before they start to flower.
Chicken manure is much more acidic than most manures, making it a good choice for crops that need acidic soil like blueberries.
Bat manure, commonly referred to as guano, is even more concentrated than poultry waste. It is typically ground into a powdered form and dusted onto the soil like a conventional fertilizer. Wet the soil before applying to avoid nutrient burn, and then spray it down again to wash the guano into the soil.
Guano, which also comes from seabirds, is such a valuable fertilizer that wars have been fought over it. Today it is available in garden centers alongside other all-natural fertilizers in a high-nitrogen and high-phosphorus form.
Also called ‘night soil,’ human waste is a traditional fertilizer, though it is used much less in modern times than animal manures. Harvesting humanure and using it safely is far beyond the scope of this article, as there is a risk of spreading infectious parasites.
As a general rule, it’s best to use humanure on plants that are not for human consumption. However, for the purposes of comparison, our poop is a bit richer than that of pigs, but less rich than poultry.
Carnivores have the richest faeces of all, but should not be used around plants for human consumption. Since there is a risk of pathogen contamination, we don’t recommend composting cat or dog poop, but this article contains some practical information.
Often, the best source of manure is what’s available on your own property, where you can move it directly from barn to compost pile to garden. If you lack animals of your own, look to the nearest livestock farmer or horse ranch—some may sell pre-composted manure or let you have it for free if you scoop it from the barn for them.
Most of what goes into the animal ends up in the manure, so you may want to inquire if antibiotics or pesticides are being used on the farm where your manure is coming from. If a farm is infested with weedy, invasive plants that you don’t want to spread to your own property, think twice about taking their manure, even if it’s free.
Dealing with docks: ‘If you can eliminate them more grass will grow in their place’
The amount of grass grown on farms would increase if farmers eliminated docks from their swards, according to TP Whelehan’s Chris Maughan. Speaking at a Teagasc Better Beef Farm walk in Co. Meath, the Technical Director said as the amount of docks increase in a sward the amount of grass grown falls at the same rate. “If you eliminate docks more grass will grow in its place,” he said.
Maughan also spoke about research trials carried out in Teagasc Kildalton, which showed that grass production falls as docks increase in both first and second cut silage. Let’s say you have 10t of DM grass cut, he said, if 50% of the field is covered in docks and 50% is covered in grass, you’ll harvest 5t of grass and 5t of docks. If 90% of the field is covered in grass and 10% is covered in docks, you’ll harvest 9t of grass and 1t of docks, he said.
The TP Whelehan representative also said that farmers can get very good levels of dock control if the manage the spraying protocol correctly. The key thing is getting the timing of the spraying right. Spraying at the correct stage of growth is important. “Docks can have a large taproot, up to 1m in length at times, and this can make the weed difficult to eliminate,” he said. Because of this, he said, it is essential to spray the docks at correct growth stage.
“Docks can have a large taproot, up to 1m in length at times, and this can make the weed difficult to eliminate,” he said. Because of this, he said, it is essential to spray the docks at correct growth stage.
Maughan also said that docks should be sprayed when they are green and leafy, as spraying when the seed head is formed (reproductive stage) will result in a lower kill. When the dock is at its reproductive stage, more energy is supplied to the top of the plant and as a result the chemical will not be taken up as well by the root, he said. “The weed killer will still work but you will get poor long term control.”
For swards including clover, Maughan said there were two clover-safe products available on the market, these are Eagle and Prospect. However, he said there are no clover safe products currently available for nettle control and if spraying for nettles, clover can be easily reintroduced into the sward through over sowing into existing swards.
Clover can be spread using a fertiliser spreader, onto the surface of the field. It doesn’t need to be rolled or stitched in- clover will germinate on the surface.
Maize growth PDF to show primary growth and development stages of maize, with illustrations of each stage. It describes the growth stage, and discusses some of the significant management considerations of each stage.
With 65% of utilisable agricultural land in the UK being grassland (nearly 57% of that permanent pasture) it makes sense for all UK farmers to pay more attention to their fields.
As we all know, good quality grass is the cheapest feed for ruminant animals and is the base on which profitable farming is built.
The costs of grass
A good crop of silage costs £30.00 per tonne and hay £75.00 per tonne and even grazed grass costs £15 per tonne.
Most of these costs are unavoidable - rent or equivalent, fertiliser, machinery costs, fuel and other overheads.
So if it costs £30.00 per tonne to grow a good crop of silage, imagine what the costs are to grow a poor crop. The fixed costs per tonne remain the same but with potentially fewer productive grasses, the overall yield is lower and silage costs are unnecessarily high.
How does this help farmers?
Farmers are used to looking at the condition of their stock with most using the 1 to 5 condition index as a way of monitoring their stock of dairy herd.
We're using this same principle to monitor agriculture pasture and grass swards, with 5 being a good sward, highly productive, and 1 being a field that needs ploughing out.
Agronomy services business Agrovista has signed a partnership agreement with Hummingbird Technologies that gives it access to a digital agriculture platform with remote sensing capabilities, as part of its commitment to targeted agronomy. Hummingbird, established as an Imperial College spinout in 2016, has developed a technology platform to capture aerial images of...