Home grown feed and forage –closing the system

There are many forages that can be grown on farm either as a standalone crop or as a mix. Such diverse forages can be used to minimise the need for grain and other concentrate feeds while maintaining production. This workshop will cover the experience of farmers as well as providing information on other forage options. This session was organised by the Pasture Fed Livestock Association (PFLA)
Anna Bassett (PFLA): chair.

Session summary

Meeting the requirements for animal production under the organic and pasture-fed standards is considerably more complicated in many respects than it is for conventionally managed or grain-fed/finished animals. Production of organic feed entails greater emphasis on home-grown forage production, while maintaining this at high levels in the absence of inorganic fertilisers presents its own particular challenges. For organic and non-organic pasture-fed farms it is therefore essential to focus on diverse mixed swards with a high proportion of leafy plants to supply energy and protein rich fodder for the livestock.

In his presentation, Simon Cutter, mentioned that there are moral and financial obligations to produce home-grown forage as this practice is more sustainable (not using imported soya) and is more resilient in the face of adverse weather conditions and because it promotes environmental diversity. His beef and sheep herds are currently entirely pasture-fed but his ambition is to minimise the feeding of concentrates to zero across all species on the farm, while the aim is also to reduce input costs and to produce food as cheaply as possible. Over the years Simon has tested several alternative types of forage for a range of livestock species. In his opinion lucerne (Medicago sativa) is one of the best alternative forages for mixed swards. It has a high protein content, can produce excellent silage and can be grown together with barley or triticale as a wholecrop. Contrary to much advice on lucerne, Simon has found the sward can be productive for up to eight years.

The second speaker, Tom Tolputt, put forward some valuable suggestions and asked farmers to consider themselves as ‘dry matter producers’; the more dry matter produced, the more output there will be from the farm. He also mentioned that home-grown alternative forages can maximise rotational nutrients, increase the availability of metabolizabe energy to animals and maximise dry matter output from forage (e.g. DM yield of 4.5 tonnes per acre). Fodder beet, is also an excellent alternative especially for non-starch energy rations and has a low substitution rate. Home-grown forages can also facilitate a better grazing management and can minimise concentrate input.

The discussion focused on pasture management and how establishment of alternative forages can be improved. It was common that the vast majority of diverse leys are highly productive but soil analysis is considered essential as soil potential for productivity can drop by 40% after two years of production. Home-grown forage can also facilitate a better grazing management, increase animal dry-matter intake and minimise concentrate input.

Key conclusions

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:

  • Home-grown forages are more sustainable towards adverse weather conditions and promote environmental diversity.
  • Lucerne, fodder beet, sainfoin, brassicas and hybrid rape/kale are all very cost effective options for feeding livestock
  • Soil analysis (and acting on the results) is considered essential to optimise production.

Individual speaker presentations and abstracts

Tom Tolputt (Farm Consultancy Group): Nutritional benefits of using alternative forages
Simon Cutter (Model Farm): Experiences of using alternative forages on an organic farm

Simon will discuss his experience of using alternative forages for a range of livestock species. Simon’s farm is 700 rented acres. 570 acres of this is extensive grassland which is both organic and in an HLS. The remaining acreage is in lucerne, hybrid rape/kale and red clover. The farm has cattle, sheep – including a small Nov/Dec lambing flock – and pigs. As an approved supplier for the Pasture Fed Livestock Association all beef and sheep are forage fed. There has been good success with lucerne and vetches. The lucerne did 22t/acre fresh weight and the silage is 17.5% protein, so more than conventional maize. When conventional farming neighbours bought lucerne, one round bale saved them £50 of soya in their mix. Hybrid rape/kale can also be a very cost effective option for feeding livestock – but it important to have access to the right machinery to grow and utilise these alternative crops. Simon will discuss growing fodder beet (estimated to yield around 10-12t/acre); sainfoin and other mixed forages and how these have been integrated with his HLS agreement and will also talk about experimenting with maximising forage for the pig herd.

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