Top tips for managing grazing during dry weather

Friday, 29 May 2020

As the dry weather arrives a month earlier than in 2018, the main priority is to reduce daily grass demand to below daily growth rate. This will help to hold grass cover on the farm, protecting current growth and speeding up recovery when rain arrives.

To work out whether grass growth is adequate to support a group of livestock, calculate livestock daily requirements and compare with measured grass growth or typical growth rates from GrassCheck GB.

Ensuring adequate supplementation is available to fill the deficit this summer is key. Looking beyond the price tag and checking fodder and feed quality can pay dividends in supporting animal performance in the most economical way this summer.

Energy and protein are the two major nutrients that determine the milk production potential of any feed. Analysing fodder and body condition scoring (BCS) livestock can help detect energy and/or protein shortages. Body condition scoring livestock regularly will allow early action to amend management, where needed, and allow early measures to be put in place, e.g increasing supplementation.

Further details on BCS are available here:

To see if there is likely to be enough grass to meet requirements over a long period, you can prepare a feed budget. If you identify a deficit, you can plan on how to manage it. For information on daily livestock requirements and feed budgeting, see pages 17‒19 of Planning grazing strategies for Better Returns.

Top tips for managing grazing

  • Do not graze below 4 cm (1500 kg DM/ha)
  • Increase rotation length but ensure seed heads are kept on top of
  • Increase the grazing platform area by grazing the youngstock platform or sacrificing silage fields
  • Consider having a sacrifice field to avoid overgrazing paddocks
  • Don’t apply N fertiliser and the plants will have little ability to utilise this into growth in dry conditions
  • Avoid topping as it is wasting feed and will also inhibit regrowth
  • Cull any empty cows/ewes to help reduce the stocking rate
  • Consider finishing heavy cattle before the winter on an intensive diet
  • Monitor the situation and consider supplementing calves and lambs – target those with a potential to finish within 4‒8 weeks

Weaning decisions

You may need to wean earlier than usual this year. Lambs and autumn-born calves will do better without competition from their mothers. If you are creep feeding, base weaning decisions on how long the animals have until they are finished, as well as ewe/suckler body condition. Monitor growth rates in weaned calves – as a guide, aim for liveweight gain of 0.7‒0.8 kg/day off grass. If necessary, supplement yearlings and store cattle with grass silage or hay. For more information, see Managing pasture shortage in rotational grazing systems for cattle.

Prioritise the best grazing for lambs/calves. If grass is in short supply, supplement weaned ewes/sucklers with hay/silage (depending on BCS) on reduced area/sacrifice paddock. You may need to group depending on BCS and prioritise supplementation for thin animals and those in their first breeding season.

Lambs

If any of the factors in the ‘wean’ column in Table 1 match with your flock performance, then consider weaning earlier than normal.

Factors to consider

Wean

Don’t wean

Ewe BCS

2

3+

Grass availability

Poor

Good

Lamb growth

<200 g/day

>200 g/day

Lamb age

>12 weeks

<10 weeks

Table 1. Weaning decisions

Find more information on growing and finishing lambs
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