Grass & Decision Making

BY JIM WEBSTER

People struggle to understand why I can get so interested in grass. After all it’s green and normally wet. But really, my life has been spent creating optimum conditions for grass. That way I had about enough to feed to cattle or sheep, and somehow we made a living.

In a perfect world, when making silage, you’d move the grass at exactly the right stage at exactly the right time. So ideally you mow the grass in the evening. This is because the grass produces sugars during the day, but during the night moves them down to the roots. So if you mow the same field in the morning, the leaves, the bit you harvest, will contain less sugar than if you mow it twelve hours later (or earlier.) As an aside that probably means to keep your lawn strong and healthy you should mow it first thing in the morning as soon as the dew is off it. Such advice is offered by the Royal Horticultural Society no less who recommend that:

The best time to start lawn mowing is in the mid-morning, or between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. The sun is higher in the sky and at this time grass has dried out a bit from the early morning dew and any irrigation.

But back to silage. You must remember that the ‘D’ value of grass is also important. D value is the percentage of digestible organic matter in the dry matter. Obviously, you measure it in the dry matter, because that which isn’t dry matter is water, and whilst necessary, there’s damn all feed value in it and it can fluctuate wildly.

Older grass will be below 60%, young leafy grasses can be over 70%. So picking a time to silage is a case of balancing quality and quantity. Go too early and you’ll have excellent silage but not enough. Go too late you’ll have plenty of belly filler but they’ll not milk off it.

At the moment things have got even more complicated in that we had a long dry spell.

Normally, the advantage of second cut silage is that as the grass was all mown on the same day in May, it starts again and is a very even crop for second cut. But because of the dry spell, in the same field you have patches where the soil contains more sand. The grass there suffered from the drought and some even went to seed (which from the D value point of view means it is low.) But with the rain those areas are greening up and putting out new shoots. Similarly other parts of the field with soils that held more water were hit less. So an appropriate date for mowing one part of the field is too late for some of the field and too early for other bits. But in agriculture, we’re used to trying to find the least bad option.

Such balancing acts are tricky. Which is why I feel sorry for those who are deciding whether or not to lift the lockdown. My suspicion is that we’re very much in two worlds. Those who’re out there and who have been working through it have long adapted and are no longer worried about things. There are bigger risks. Then we have those who’re stuck at home. I still know people who haven’t been past the garden gate and don’t particularly want to. But then if you’re somebody on a guaranteed income (government paid salary and you’re at home shielding a vulnerable relative) why on earth would you push for change?

YouGov started a ‘chat’ which they email to people every couple of days. I suppose it’s a way of getting a feel for how people are feeling.

Last week two of the questions were:

Do you think levels of frustration and anger in the population are higher or lower than usual?

Results so far…

  • Much higher – 50%
  • A little higher – 44%
  • None of these – 4%
  • A little lower – 2%
  • Much lower – 1%

Do you think over the next month feelings of frustration will…?

Latest results…

  • Increase – 70%
  • Decrease – 18%
  • Neither – 13%

I must admit I wouldn’t disagree with those findings. A lot of people are going quietly out of their minds, stuck at home with only the BBC and Social Media. With only those two options as company anyone would go out of their minds.

Jim Webster farms at the bottom end of South Cumbria. Jim was encouraged to collect together into a book some blog posts he’d written because of their insight into Cumbrian farming and rural life (rain, sheep, quad-bikes and dogs) It’s available here.

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