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The effect of grazed sward height and stocking rate on animal performance and output from beef cow systems



The effect of grazed sward height and stocking rate on animal performance and output from beef cow systems



Grass & Forage Science 51(2): 199-208



During three consecutive summers, forty spring-calving beef cows and their calves grazed perennial ryegrass-dominant swards receiving 250 kg N ha-1 at one of two annual stocking rates (2.0 (SR 2.0) or 2-5 (SR 2.5) cows ha-1) and one of two sward heights (4-5 (LS) or 7-8 (HS) cm) in a 2 times 2-factorial experiment, replicated twice. Sward heights were maintained from turn-out in spring by weekly adjustment of the area grazed and herbage was cut for silage in June and again in August from the areas not grazed. After the second cut of silage there was no control of sward height. Calves were weaned in early October and cows removed from pasture and housed when sward heights fell to 4 cm in autumn. Cows were fed in groups a variable but measured quantity of silage during winter to achieve a body condition score of 2.0-2.25 at turn-out the following spring. During the period of sward height control the cows on the HS treatment gained more live weight than those on the LS treatment (0.841 vs. 0.496 kg day-1; P lt 0.01) as did the calves (1.167 vs. 1-105; P lt 0.05), but the stocking rate treatment had no effect. From the time of second-cut silage to the time of weaning and housing respectively, calves and cows gained more live weight on the SR 2.0 treatment because sward heights were higher. Reproductive performance of cows was not affected by treatment. The quantity of silage produced and consumed per cow was not affected by sward height treatment, but the SR 2.0 treatment produced significantly (P lt 0.001) more silage (1559 kg dry matter per cow) than the SR 2.5 treatment (833 kg dry matter per cow) and had higher winter silage requirements (1249 vs. 1153 kg dry matter per cow; P lt 0.05). The overall mean stocking rate at which winter fodder production and requirements would be in balance was calculated as 2.25 cows ha-1 but values were 1.86, 2.60 and 2.28 in each of the three years of the experiment. The results showed that it was possible to control sward height in temperate beef cow systems by adjusting the area available for grazing. Body condition score can be used as a means of determining the feeding levels required to manipulate body condition of cows over winter to achieve prescribed levels of body condition. The experimental approach allows the identification of the stocking rate at which self-sufficiency in winter fodder can be achieved and the year-to-year variation associated with that stocking rate. This approach could be generalized if information on herbage growth rate were available, either from direct measurement or from predictive models.

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Accession: 002983230

Download citation: RISBibTeXText

DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2494.1996.tb02054.x


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