Grazing areas of poorer quality ground being managed in environmental stewardship schemes can be a successful way to farm sheep.
However, for Dorset-based farm manager Gareth Beynon it is a system which presents some challenges.
“We run a flock of 3000 ewes alongside a 30 head Galloway suckler herd and while the extensive areas of stewardship grazing we have available here on the Rampisham Estate are key to both these enterprises, the quality of the grass from them can be challenging.
“Grass quality isn’t as high as it is in new leys or herbal leys on the rest of the Estate and this means stock grazing these areas have to be managed appropriately. Key to this is ensuring stock receive adequate trace element and vitamin supplementation to maximise both health and productivity,” he explains.
Since his arrival at Rampisham Estate six years ago Mr Beynon has overseen a ten-fold increase in the flock, with large areas of the Estate taken out of arable production and reverting to grass.
Some 1300 acres are now in grass on the Estate, with a mix of stewardship ground, herbal leys and new ryegrass leys. “These new leys and herbal leys have helped boost productivity, but these too have required careful trace element and vitamin supplementation as the land adjusts back to grass production.
“To combat this, we have undertaken forage analysis across the Estate to establish the levels of key trace elements in the grazed forage, giving a much better understanding of what is available to the stock from their daily diet of grazed grass. Lime has also been applied extensively to try and correct pH levels which were significantly below optimum.”
Keen to emphasise that there is no magic bullet when it comes to correcting any deficiencies, Mr Beynon says the key for him has been the knowledge he has gained from this forage analysis.
“It would have been easy to blanket treat the stock with an off the shelf product and assume I’d dealt with any underlying problems. But the reality is without knowing what issues we might be facing there would be no way of knowing if we were delivering the right trace elements at the right time.”
Working with Chris Williams of Clinwil Nutrition Services and his Forage Link service the Estate commissioned analysis of grass from all grazing areas of the Estate, gaining a full insight in to where trace elements and vitamins were needed and also which antagonists may be present and locking up available sources of some vital trace elements.
Mr Williams says this is often the biggest issue on many farms as while there may be adequate levels of trace elements and vitamins in the forage, they cannot be used by stock as they are unavailable to them. “Understanding the inter-relationship between these elements is critical to ensuring the right supplementation is given and stock receiving the right treatment.”
As a result of this work the Estate now offers stock a bespoke trace element and mineral bucket formulated to counteract problems present in its grassland.
Mr Beynon says this targeted approach is far more beneficial than blanket treatment and is delivering results for the Estate.
“While the flock has always scanned at a decent level due to being tupped on nearby dairy grazing, these days we are seeing lambs thrive more through the summer and the flock always looks in tip top condition.
“I firmly believe we are seeing far fewer underlying health and productivity issues as a result of using these buckets.”
Mr Williams explains that one of the key issues on the Estate was high manganese levels across many areas of the grassland. “In some samples manganese was as high as 300% above need. This may sound good, but it creates a major issue as high manganese levels reduce the availability of selenium and cobalt, both of which are essential for immunity and fertility in livestock.
“In addition, molybdenum levels are also quite high in many samples, with this resulting in available copper being locked up and unavailable to stock, potentially impacting on growth rates in youngstock and also affecting fertility,” he says.
- 1300 acres grassland
- 3000 ewes & 30 suckler cows
- All replacements homebred
- Two labour units employed