While many livestock farmers turned to Italian ryegrass in spring last year to produce large quantities of forage to replenish silage stocks, they will need to manage the crop very carefully this year to get the most out of it warns one leading expert.
“When sown in the spring grass produced a dense, leafy sward, with virtually no seed heads which made silage making easy,” said David Long, research and development manager agriculture at grass experts and seed producers Barenbrug.
But he says things will be different in the second year as it will have gone through vernalization, or the acquisition of a plant’s ability to flower in the spring by exposure to a prolonged period of cold throughout the winter. Therefore they will attempt to produce seed heads at every opportunity.
“To get the best out of their investment farmers will need to carefully manage their Italian sward this year,” said Mr Long.
“Italian ryegrass grows at lower temperatures than other species so given the mild winter it has kept growing so goes into spring with a large bulk of grass. To make the most of this farmers should ensure the sward is grazed early before being shut up for silage or a very early - by late April - silage cut taken to remove the winter growth.
“Early grazing can be followed by a first cut taken five to six weeks later as the crop starts to head in late May, which will give the best combination of yield and quality. A second cut can be taken five weeks after the first – a week earlier than perennial ryegrass.
“But if you want to take a second cut at the same time as other leys the best idea is to graze the cut sward for a week after cutting to hold back any re-growth.
“Further cuts can be taken at five weekly intervals, or the sward can be grazed – it responds well to hard, tight grazing, otherwise it will go stemmy very quickly.
“Italian ryegrass is an extremely productive species but needs to be carefully managed to get the most out of it and the key to that management is flexibility.
“Lax management or late cutting will result in reduced quality and rejection by the grazing animal, so farmers need to judge cutting times by looking at the crop, not the calendar.”