Sainsburys Grazing Trial
In August 2014 I began a two and a half year sheep grazing project in conjunction with Sainsbury’s and their Lamb Steering and Development Group farmers. The idea of the project is to see if we can help improve sheep farmers businesses by improving their grassland management.
The basic theory of the trial is that if the farms in question can grow greater quantities of higher quality grass, and improve utilisation, it will help the farmers become more efficient by either carrying a greater number of animals on the same area, or to reduce the amount of other feed in the sheep’s diet.
To achieve this we will be implementing a rotational grazing system on nine Sainsbury supplier farms across the country, two in Scotland, two in Wales and five in England. In addition to the rotational grazing we will be measuring grass with a plate meter on a fortnightly basis, this will then be recorded on an internet based grass management programme which will provide us with all of the grass growth data for the trial.
As well as the grass growth data we are also taking grass samples every month for the duration of the project, which will allow us to plot the quality of grass and cross reference it against the stage of growth of the plant, and the age of the sward. We are also taking full soil samples each year to monitor any changes in soil fertility. The fourth physical measurement will be monthly rainfall figures.
The ultimate test for the change of practice is animal performance, so we are taking a wide range of animal performance measurements, firstly the ewe BCS prior to tupping, scanning results, average birth weight of lambs, lamb weights at 8 weeks old, lamb weights at weaning and lamb weights fortnightly thereafter. In addition to this we will record the percentage of lambs sold directly off the ewe, and try to finish the remainder purely on grass.
The farms in the trial represent a good cross section of the country with altitudes varying from 200 – 1,100ft, rainfall from 23 – 70 inches and soils ranging from light and free draining to heavy soil.
I know the management will alter from farm to farm, but I want to prove that by focussing on grassland management every farm can improve performance, but the level of improvement will be dictated to a degree by the location and other physical factors. What works well on one farm will probably need to be tweaked to work on another farm, but the principles will be the same. What I am convinced of is the fact that there is plenty of room for improvement on all nine farms. Watch this space………………..