Limited rainfall could be problematic

On our recent webinar, poll results showed that the majority of farmers were starting to worry about the weather conditions and hoping grass would take off soon. One week on and the majority of the country still has not received any substantial amount of rain, with some having to provide supplementary feed and forage at grass.

Top tips for dealing with a shortfall in the next few weeks:

  • Assess pasture cover and forage stocks
  • Slow down the rotation by providing supplementary forage and keep stock in one paddock for a few days longer to allow other paddocks on the farm to recover
  • Introduce more paddocks to extend the rotation and allow covers to recover (these could be extra grazing fields or fields which have been silage)
  • If sward height is under 4 cm (1,500 kg DM/ha), provide ewes and lambs with supplementation. If sward height is less than 3 cm (1,200 kg DM/ha), extra forage is required as well to maintain lactation and lamb growth rates
  • Feeding root crops is a common option to deal with an energy deficit for ewes. For example, 2 kg fresh weight of fodder beet is the equivalent of around 0.5 kg FW of barley, in terms of energy

For some, drought has become the norm. Ian Baggs, who farms in Dorset, says, “Manage your grazing appropriately for the varieties you have. Try different methods and see what works for you to become more drought resilient”.

Ian shares the long-term approaches he is trialling on his farm to manage drought:

Infrastructure

With improved tracks and troughs, Ian is hoping to turn out earlier in the spring and graze later into the autumn when there is more likely to be adequate soil moisture for grass growth.

Herbal leys

Deep rooting mixes are being monitored to see which species take well and perform, and which die out, so Ian can establish the perfect mix for the dry conditions on his farm.

See our recent webinar series on herbal leys.

Grazing management

Ian will be looking into different grazing methods, such as grazing at high covers with a heavy stocking density and leaving longer residuals to increase organic matter. The typical 21-day rotation, grazing at covers of 3,000 kg DM/ha, down 1,500 kg DM/ha, is not quite appropriate for Ian’s system, with his ryegrasses heading at 2,000–2,500 kg DM/ha.

See our podcast on mob grazing.

a herd of sheep in a field
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