Grazing strategies for dairy youngstock

Understanding his grazing platform and a rotational grazing system is helping strategic dairy farmer, Adrian Bland, meet growth rate targets for his 180 head of youngstock in Cumbria.

Working with James Daniel, Precision Grazing, Adrian Bland has been gaining greater control over his grass production, enhancing the quality of the grass grazed and improving animal performance per hectare. Overall, the youngstock at Ninezergh have access to 32 hectares, heifers are expected to gain 0.9kgLW per day and the grass is expected to grow at an average of 60kgDM.

Regularly measuring grass with a platemeter is vital to achieving this. If used once a week, it can help you understand the growth and recovery rates of your grass. By understanding your supply as well as your demand, informed decisions about grassland management can be made.  At Ninezergh, Adrian has put this into practice, reducing bullock numbers in response to the lack of grass growth this year, a result of a lack of rain.

James highlighted that 30-40% of energy from grass goes into the soil to supply micro-organisms which then feed the grass. Increasingly it is important to find alternative ways to fix nitrogen in your soils such as ensuring efficient use of clover. Bacteria can also be fixed through a good soil structure and correct pH. Chicory and plantain can also play an important role in improving soil structure, but it is important to examine how long these plants are likely to last within your own system and with the conditions specific to your farm.

Once a crop has gone to seed, energy is concentrated towards that seed rather than back into the soil. By establishing pasture with a variety of crops that go to seed at different times, you can help ensure that energy is going into the soil throughout the year.

Rotational grazing has also proved beneficial at Ninezergh. Youngstock will usually spend 48 hours in each individual paddock, ensuring that they are able to graze the land sufficiently but without damaging re-growth. Each paddock will then be rested for 20-24 days before being grazed again. By optimising grazing required in this way, you can reduce the amount of land required for your system. James also highlighted that, when implementing rotational grazing, there are two key points to remember:

  1. Don’t stay in one place for too long.
  2. Don’t graze it again until it’s fully recovered.

Top tips for grazing youngstock

  1. Get the stocking rate right.
  2. Establish 8 – 10 paddocks (size depending on the size of the grazing group) and move to a new paddock every 2 – 3 days.
  3. Be prepared to measure the grass, ideally every week, record measurements in a pasture management software program and use the information to make proactive decisions.
  4. Ensure that the sward height is suitable for the size/age of the animals.
  5. Consider use of dry cows or yearling heifers to maintain pasture quality for the weaned calves.

Further resources