Benefits of on/off grazing cows in autumn

Wednesday, 27 September 2023

On/off grazing for cows in autumn offers many benefits for UK farmers. It provides weather resilience, preserves pastures, optimises nutrient utilisation, reduces soil compaction, aids parasite control, facilitates effective manure management, and enhances cow wellbeing. This contributes to increased production and the long-term sustainability of the farm.

As autumn weather patterns become increasingly unpredictable, adopting on/off grazing practices is a valuable strategy.

For those thinking of on/off grazing to avoid poaching the platform in wet weather this autumn, remember that it works best when cows have an edge to their appetite. This changes their eating habits; they graze for longer and, in turn, increase the number of days at grass and animal performance.

It also helps to set the farm up during the final rotation to grow grass over winter and provide grass the following spring.

On/off grazing has become an increasingly popular and effective method that involves rotating cows between pasture and housing, offering various benefits during the autumn season.

What is on/off grazing?

"On/off grazing" typically refers to a specific approach or method of managing livestock, particularly in the context of pasture or forage-based feeding systems. This strategy involves alternating periods of time during which animals have access to pasture ("on") with periods when they are kept off the pasture ("off").

The"on" phase typically allows livestock to graze freely. When this period of grazing is followed by an "off" phase, during which animals are restricted from the pasture, it allows the sward to recover and regenerate.

The on/off grazing strategy is often part of a broader rotational grazing management plan, where pastures are divided into smaller paddocks or sections. Livestock are moved between these paddocks in a planned sequence, providing rest periods for each section to recover. This approach can contribute to improved forage quality, increased productivity, and better overall land and animal management.

Advantages of on/off grazing

Preserves pastures

Effective pasture management is crucial for sustaining production, especially in autumn when grass growth begins to slow down. On/off grazing allows farmers to preserve their pastures by preventing overgrazing and poaching.

Alternating between grazing and housing allows cows access to fresh pasture and time for previously grazed areas to recover. This rotational approach ensures the longevity and health of the grazing areas.

Optimises nutrient utilisation

Due to declining grass quality, autumn forage can be less nutritious than summer forage.

On/off grazing allows cows to consume a balanced diet by supplementing their grass intake with high-quality supplementary feed. Where cows are on an all-pasture diet before on/off grazing, no buffer feeding is needed.

Where supplements are being fed, it’s important to ensure that cows have finished this feed at least 3 hours before going back out to grass. This ensures that cows receive the necessary nutrients to maintain their health and production levels, even as the pastures become less nutritious.

Reduces soil compaction

Autumn's wet conditions can lead to soil compaction, which can damage pastures and hinder future grass growth. On/off grazing reduces the amount of time cows spend on pasture, minimising soil compaction.

By allowing the land to recover, farmers can maintain healthy and productive grazing areas for the long term.

Aids parasite control

Autumn is a prime time for parasites like gastrointestinal worms to thrive in moist pastures. Constant grazing can increase the risk of infection among cattle.

On/off grazing helps in parasite control by reducing the time cows spend on contaminated pasture. When cows are housed, they are less likely to encounter infective larvae, leading to healthier and more resilient livestock.

Enhances cow wellbeing

Autumn weather in the UK can be unpredictable, with frequent rainfall and dropping temperatures. On/off grazing provides cows with the opportunity to be housed during bad conditions, helping them maintain their body temperature and overall health.

By minimising exposure to harsh weather, cows are less stressed, which can have a positive impact on their immune system and overall productivity.

Enhances yields and performance

Maintaining cow comfort and health through on/off grazing can have a direct impact on production. Happy and healthy cows tend to produce more, leading to increased farm profitability.

Additionally, the improved nutrient intake and reduced stress associated with this grazing method can help enhance yields and performance.

Top tips for on/off grazing

  • Use different gates for entering and exiting
  • Target higher covers as they provide additional protection against soil damage
  • Autumn block farmers should house their colostrum herd as they do the most walking
  • Wet conditions can soften hooves, so zinc or copper footbaths are a good idea
  • Plan the grazing rotation so the wettest paddocks are grazed off towards the end of October; this gives them four months’ rest before their first grazing in spring