Utilisation is key to a successful grazing system

Thursday, 4 May 2023

The GrassCheck GB grass growth model predicts daily growth rates to increase and reach 70 kg DM/ha/day for parts of Wales and England in the coming two weeks, making this the perfect time to take back control and increase utilisation.

Improve utilisation and drive profits

Over the past few weeks, Pasture for Profit consultant Piers Badnell from LIC has provided our readers with useful advice to help with their day-to-day decision-making around grass management, particularly around the challenging grazing conditions brought on by a wet March and April. However, things are on the up temperature and grass growth-wise.

Good utilisation occurs when fields are grazed at the correct pre-grazing covers, and the target post-grazing residuals are reached with the correct stocking rate. Within a grazing season, it is key to graze to the target residual, 1,500 kg DM/ha or 4 cm, to ensure sufficient quality for the next grazing round.

Improved pasture quality is a result of hitting good residuals, which you then capture at the following grazing. Lower residuals will reduce regrowth because of a lack of sugar available in the stubble to generate a new leaf. Higher residuals contain more stem and will reduce pasture quality at subsequent grazings, increase wastage and reduce grass utilisation.

Pasture allocation

Keep it simple – minimise the number of grazing groups so that, by default, you maximise the number of cows per group. This has the two-fold effect of reducing the number of paddocks needed while keeping the paddocks as large as possible to make management easier.

Establish the herd’s daily grass demand based on the ideal pre-grazing yield of 2,900 kg DM/ha for the main part of the grazing season. On average, cows will eat 3% of their body weight as total DMI (Dry Matter Intake), including other forage and feed offered

Measure to manage

Once the pasture walk is complete and grass measurements for a grazing area have been collected, several things can be done to aid grassland management decisions.

Several online and computerised grass management programs are available, which will do the calculations and data processing to give you the current farm growth rates, average farm cover, information to build a grass wedge, precise information for feed budgets and planning, individual paddock growth rates and annual farm growth rates.

Managing surplus

With grass growth on the rise, beware of covers getting ahead of you. Here are our top tips for managing a surplus:

  • Remove surplus paddocks as silage – this should be completed as soon as possible so that the paddocks can be put back in the grazing rotation as quickly as possible
  • Do not delay the reaction to high grass growth
  • Do not increase the stocking rate on the grazing area by closing too many paddocks for long-term silage. Caution should be exercised so that excessive grass is not removed, which would result in a deficit
  • If surplus grass is removed as soon as it is identified, this will result in the area being included in the grazing round, making it available to cope with a slowing of pasture growth

Managing rotational grazing during wet weather

Here are our 10 tips for managing a wet spring:

  • Avoid excessive poaching
  • Graze priority stock first – this should be the group that will make the most economical use of paddocks first
  • If possible, turn them out into smaller groups
  • Reduce paddock sizes to one-day or 12-hour paddocks
  • Back fence grazing paddocks to ensure they have time to recover
  • On/off grazing has proven to be a successful way to extend the grazing season
  • Graze the most sheltered and driest fields
  • Have multiple entrances to a field
  • Use a grass corridor to graze the back of the field first
  • Understand the animals’ feed requirements and supplement when needed

Further information

Matching grass supply to livestock requirements and guides on feed budgeting

Planning grazing strategies for Better Returns

Forage for Knowledge (interactive grass growth dashboard)

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Katie Evans

Senior Knowledge Exchange Manager - National Specialist (Grass Forage & Soil)

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