MAKING THE move away from intensive to paddock grazing has returned great results for the Davidson’s who farm at Poldean near Moffat.

Alisdair and Emma Davidson manage a flock of 500 Lleyn ewes and a herd of 360 Salers cows which are run on 850 hectares and put to mostly Charolais bulls.

By taking part in Quality Meat Scotland’s Better Grazing Group, they made the decision to adapt their enterprise from an intensive system to one that better utilises grass all year and have seen large benefits particularly with their cows and calves.

The operation at Poldean has ultimately become more efficient and the Davidsons have been able to increase their stocking rates whilst keeping feed costs low, and they put it all down to making the most out of a key natural resource – grass.

“I knew I could improve the grassland, but couldn’t quantify how well, so the opportunity to be a pilot farm for the GrassCheck GB Programme helped me with the discipline to regularly measure and utilise the farm’s grass,” said Mr Davidson.

“I am now managing to quantify how much grass there is, so I can predict how much I have to feed stock. We grew a lot of grass last year, one paddock grew close to 18 tonne which I never thought we could manage here in Moffat,” he added.

GrassCheck GB monitors the growth and quality of pasture and makes predictions of future growth utilisation on beef and sheep farms. Each unit is equipped with weather stations and other monitoring devices to report on the factors that influence pasture growth and quality, combined with measures of animal performance.

“Historically we lambed from 1st April and continued to feed with the snacker until May,” Mr Davidson continued. “We now lamb at the end of April to allow grass to establish, so the ewes can milk better. The same theory has been applied with the cattle, and we calve earlier at the start of April, to make better use of grass when the cows need it most.”

The Salers calve outdoors and are paddock grazed in as few groups as possible – ideally around 120 cows and their calves.

Mr Davidson explained: “Having larger batches makes for a simpler system requiring less stock movement. Cows are moved every three to four days behind bespoke polywire fences in paddocks of around 3-4ha.”

Last year, April born calves were sold straight off their mothers in October, fed no concentrates and averaged 1.5kg daily liveweight gain. The remainder of the youngstock were wintered and sold in the spring.

Although the Salers are mostly served by Charolais bulls, The Davidson’s recently introduced a Red Angus, to enable them to breed their own heifer replacements which are more suited to the new system they have created at Poldean.

They hope to bring some high bred vigour into the cows whilst still maintaining a uniform looking herd.

Sheep are loosely rotated on a weekly basis after lambing, grazing 20ha blocks of rough ground. Lambs are weaned at approximately 30kg and are then put onto the paddock grazing system to utilise the best of the grass for finishing.

“Rotational and/or paddock grazing gives you huge flexibility,” added Mr Davidson. “If you can build grass stocks into the back end, it can help cheapen your winter.

“We are now stocking more cattle, but still have a full silage pit that we haven’t touched - so it’s definitely given us the opportunity to be more resilient and reduce our costs of fertiliser and feeding stock, whilst still allowing us to increase cattle numbers,” he enthused.

“Our goal is to produce a product that the market wants, as efficiently as possible by making the best use of key natural resource we have available to us. You really can’t put a price on what you can grow in your fields,” he concluded.