USING cutting edge technology to fine tune their grazing requirements to availability, was on of the hot topics at Thursday past's Nithsdale Monitor farm meeting.

At the meeting, at Clonhie Farm, near Penpont, Michael Shannon – a livestock farmer from Lanarkshire – shared his knowledge and experience of all thing’s grassland and forage.

For him 'Grass is king' and Mr Shannon aims to maximise both output and use on his 100 ha farm at Thankerton Camp Farm, near Biggar

There he runs a sheep and finishing cattle system with no housing, making use of high-quality grass and winter forage crops. He currently finishes approximately 150 Aberdeen-Angus cross cattle a year, two-thirds of which he sells through Damn Delicious, his successful farm butchery and farm shop business.

He encouraged farmers not to over-complicate their grazing systems, but to keep things simple and relevant to their own farms in order to increase production and save costs.

He said: “The key is to follow the grass growth curve – graze it hard in the spring, which will improve the quality in the autumn, but you have to be careful not to overgraze it late in the year as it will not recover.”

Over the winter his cattle are strip-grazed on a kale/rape hybrid, called Swift, with access to silage. He also uses fodder beet and is impressed with the positive results he has seen with it.

Andrew Marchant, who farms with his wife, Aileen, at Clonhie, had already taken big strides in his grazing management in the first three years of the Monitor Farm programme, but is keen to continue improving the utilisation of their grass.

The couple run 900 breeding ewes and a small herd of 20 Luing cattle all of which are out-wintered, as well as 100 deer hinds on their 300-ha upland farm.

He said: “We started to monitor and measure grass growth which helped us really understand its value and we now use rotational and paddock grazing. Deferred grazing has also made a big difference – we shut off an area in early September which we can then graze in January and February, a time when we would previously have had little grass left.

“We really need to make some decisions now to set us up for the next 12 months. At the meeting we looked at last year’s grass to grass reseed and discussed whether to spray the weeds, at the expense of the clover and then overseed, or to just spray the whole sward off and start again.”

The Marchants were also very keen to grow another forage crop at Clonhie this year. They grew kale and swedes in their first year as a monitor farm to feed their flock over the winter and to set up the field for a new reseed and are looking at doing this again this year.

The farm has also decided to refine its grass and feed budgeting by using Farmax – a farm planning software system – to manage the supply of grass and demand from the livestock based on their own grass curve data. At the meeting the benefits of the programme were highlighted and how it could be used to improve performance and profitability of grass-based systems.

Mr Marchant said: “We have already started to input Clonhie data into Farmax and plan to monitor grass growth and livestock performance through the season. I am really looking forward to seeing how the system can be used as a tool to investigate different scenarios and aid decision making in the future.”

The Nithsdale monitor farm is one of nine monitor farms that have been established around Scotland in a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds and managing grass in a dry year was also recently discussed at the Morayshire Monitor Farm.

Paddy Jack, from DLF Seeds, was the main speaker at the event, which was held at the Green family's Corskie Farm, near Garmouth. He highlighted grass varieties which cope best with low rainfall and the group toured fields which host farmer, Iain Green, reseeded last year with this aim in mind.

Project facilitator, Sam Stewart, from SAC Consulting, explained: “A field was reseeded using three different grass mixtures containing cockfoot, so we will be taking a look to see how that is doing. We haven’t had much rain here over winter or spring, and after last year’s drought we were keen to make sure we do what we can to cope in dry conditions.”

As well as covering how best to manage grass and grass varieties, Mr Jack also discussed weed control on silage and grazing pastures and over seeding.

The farmer Iain Green talked about how the business coped over winter with lower silage stocks than usual. "We’ve been fortunate the grass came in early this year, but we also worked hard to ration the silage over the winter months.”

The final part of the meeting focused on the best methods for recycling plastic after the recent burning ban came into force. Mr Stewart told the meeting of how farmers could organise for this waste to be either picked up on farm, or dropped off, as well as highlighting the costs involved.

“I think there are some farmers who are simply storing a lot of the waste on farm at the moment,” he said. “But that just isn’t sustainable. You are not allowed to store it for more than two years and waiting too long will just make it harder to dispose of – it’s best that farmers start doing it sooner rather than later.”