Improved Grass Breeding on Dairy Farms

Our office in Carmarthenshire deals predominantly with grass based dairy farmers in West Wales.  We benchmark and review the performance of these businesses with financial and physical KPI’s.  Two common physical KPI’s we use, are litres per ha and per cow from forage.  Both these KPI’s are typically driven by grass Dry Matter production (although influenced by several other variables).  The yields from forage and linked dry matter production figures vary hugely for comparable systems, farms and climate.   The effect of re-seeding and continually rejuvenating grass leys with the aim of increasing dry matter would be a significant factor in this.

Over the last ten years we have seen several new dairy conversions (dry stock / beef and sheep farms being converted to dairying).  These conversion farms often technically outperform long well-established dairy farms.  There are obviously several factors that influence this, however one factor is that the conversion farms are often farms where the entire grazing platform has been re-seeded as part of the dairy conversion.

Farms where re-seeding or rejuvenating leys is only considered when essential, are losing out on the potential gains from reseeding and developments in grass breeding.  The developments in grass breeding and performance of newer generation grass varieties have been well documented by research completed by IBERS and Teagasc.

The below graph illustrates this.  The graph shows the grass yield in dry matter against the year the variety was first listed.

The above graph simply illustrates a yield comparison.  When comparing the newer cultivars with old there are also gains in Dry Matter Digestibility, Water Soluble Carbohydrates and Ground Cover.   Research completed by IBERS comparing new and old cultivars (Abermagic v Talbot) showed the newer cultivars with 28% increased Dry Matter production and 25% increase in Water Soluble Carbohydrates when compared to old cultivars.  Were this difference expressed in Metabolisable Energy available in grass, this would total over 45,000 MJ.  To emphasise the significance of this difference, if 70% of this energy in grass was utilised, this would equate to an additional 6,600 litres of milk from grass per ha.  This is obviously a simplistic comparison and the gains will depend on several other variables.  However, the gain easily covers the costs of re-seeding/rejuvenating leys.  The difference also helps explain the large variance we see in milk from forage on litres per ha and per cow.

New cultivars as listed by British Grassland Recommended Grass and Clover list and dominate the highest rankings on the Irish (Teagasc) Pasture Profit Index.  The gains in grass breeding need to be recognised and farmers need to ensure that they are taking advantage of this through including the latest generation grasses in their re-seeding policy.

Contact Cled at cledrichards@fcgagric.com or your local FCG office, to formulate a grass reseeding policy on your farm. 

Posted in Arable & Crops, Business Management, Calne Dairy, Carmarthen, Dairy & Forage, Gillingham Grazers, Midwest Grazers, Milkwell Group, Wessex Springers, WHDDG.