Meet the Forage for Knowledge Contributor - Robin Young - Spring-quality grass all year round in Stirlingshire

Scottish dairy farms can grow quality grass – and lots of it – as Robin Young has discovered while taking part in Forage for Knowledge. Measuring and testing grazed grass every week for the past seven years has shown Robin that Waterside Farm in Stirlingshire not only produces 12 ME grass, but also 12 t DM/ha from its grazing paddocks.

Installing a network of tracks means that cows can access grass even on the wettest days. As a result, turnout is now four weeks earlier in spring, with cows also staying out two weeks later in autumn. This brings savings in silage and labour, as well as slurry handling and bedding. “I grow more grass than I ever thought I could,” says Robin. “We have shortened winter housing and spring turnout is now in March (the 19 March this year), not the traditional 20 April.”

Robin’s 180-cow crossbred herd, block calves in autumn and has a grazing platform of 56 ha divided up into 28 paddocks. Soils are fairly light and free-draining and get an annual rainfall of 1,000–1,100 mm. A further 15 ha are rented for youngstock grazing. Average yield is 7,000 litres with 3,700 litres from forage and 1.5 t cake/cow. He makes 1,200–1,300 t of silage each year, which is unchanged from when the herd had just 120 cows, reflecting the greater intakes of grazed grass.

“Grass is pretty consistent through the season and you can’t afford to buy a cake of that quality spec: 12–13 ME and way into the twenties for crude protein % (it was 27.5% this spring). I always thought August grass was inferior, but when you graze it tight and grow it to 2,800 kg DM/ha, it is still much the same quality, so you get spring grass all year round.”

Data from Scottish dairy farms shows that well-managed grass yields 15.3–17.9 t DM/ha/year. Individual paddocks on Waterside’s platform produce 11.5–13.0 t DM/ha, with growth rates of 150–200 kgDM/ha/day in June. Compared with the national average, Robin feels he probably needs to do more reseeding to see what a difference it would make.

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