Forage for Knowledge
Access the latest grass growth and quality figures (in our interactive dashboard) and updates and resources.
Latest grass growth commentary
8 November 2023*
An extremely wet end to the season with rain for much of the country forecast over the next two to three weeks. However, it is still important to utilise grass where possible. How you finish the last round is important; cows on concrete bear a cost. If this can be reduced in late lactation cows, then it can positively impact your business in terms of the cow feeding herself and spreading her own waste.
Grass crude protein levels are 20% plus; this will reduce protein requirement, save silage, and help set up the platform and wedge for next spring and season. On-off grazing works extremely well, but there is a fine balance between utilisation and damage. Take a walk and see what your conditions are like; two clients last week were surprised by ground conditions, but another was not, so I won with two and lost with one.
Examine your position in terms of average farm covers and wedge but also in terms of cow body condition. Some herds have lost a little condition in the last month, so bear this in mind. It is about weighing up the positives and negatives and making an informed decision for your circumstances.
Now is the time to review performance, firstly with paddocks which performed and which did not. If using Agrinet, look at your paddock reports to assess which paddocks did well and why and which underperformed and why.
For quality information, you need a minimum of 30 plate meter recordings per paddock per year. If a paddock has underperformed, why? Is it pH? Sub-optimal pH can have yield impacts of 5–30%; pH is logarithmic, so the difference between 5 and 6 is ten times. Is it P and K status, or is it soil structure? Did the paddock get poached twice in one season? If so, what are you going to do about it?
Time to look at your underperforming paddocks – what is the percentage of ryegrass in the sward? To do this, pick several places in the paddock and mark out 25cm by 25cm. Look for the red base of the ryegrass plant to determine what proportion is ryegrass. If it is below 50%, then consider reseeding. Weed grasses yield less, have a lower response to nitrogen and do not have the quality in terms of energy and crude protein.
Options for improving grassland – as mentioned already, check your soil pH and indices. Also, take time to reflect on grazing management. Did you graze the underperformer when it was too wet?
While grazing in wet weather conditions, back fencing and free-running drains are fundamental. Take time to assess your drains. Are they blocked? Is the ditch cleaned out to allow natural drainage? I saw a farm radically changed a few years ago simply because the new tenant cleaned the ditches out so water could drain away, leading to earlier and later grazing, adding two rounds and, as such, an extra 2.6 t of dry matter utilised and the disappearance of rushes. This is dramatic, but now that we have had so much rain, have a look at where you have water sitting and make a note.
When conditions are right, check for blocked drains and compaction. If required, consider mole ploughing from the wet spot to a ditch.
How did clover perform for you this year?
Clover loves fertile soils, pH 6+ and P & K 3; it also needs a firm seedbed, drilling depth of 10–12 mm and good soil contact.
A good organic farmer said to a discussion group I work with, "You have to keep topping your farm up every year with clover seed."
If introducing clover into a sward, do not let pre-grazing cover get higher than 2800–2900 kg DM/ha and hit residuals so light can get in and encourage stolon growth and graze early season to stimulate the plant.
Review your stocking rate
The drier summers over the last five or six years have meant lower production yield per hectare and more weeks of demand above growth. Are you having to feed the last twenty or so cows fully on bought feed? If so, are they profitable? Do you need to review stock numbers and stock rate?
To end this year's comments, I will quote a particularly good grass-based farmer. When asked about the secrets of success, he said, "The correct stocking rate, the correct average cover and body condition score all year and a zero tolerance of lameness."
Grass utilisation explains 42% of profit (Teagasc), and cost of production explains 80% of profit (AHDB, DairyCo Milkbench), something to always bear in mind when making decisions. Thanks all, and best wishes for the remaining part of the year.
Pasture for Profit consultant, Piers Badnell, will provide comments (usually, every two weeks) throughout the main grass growing season.
This data set also includes grass growth and quality data from the AHDB-sponsored beef and sheep GrassCheck GB contributors in England.