Getting grazing back on track

Published 10 August 12

The bad weather we've seen across the UK this summer has meant many cows have been in and out of housing, as conditions dictate, with two major consequences: cows have eaten into winter stocks, and grazing has, at best, got away from the cows.

But it's not too late to try and bring grazing back under control to make the best of what's left of the season, says DairyCo extension officer Piers Badnell.

"We are, hopefully, coming into a drier weather pattern so we need to assess where we are grazing wise and do something about it, soil conditions allowing," says Piers. "The main aim is to get grass under control and reinstate the residual in order to get a handle on both quality and quantity.

"Depending on where you farm, there are about two to three months of the grazing season left.  Action now can mean getting some return from grazing for the rest of this year, and possibly even more important, getting things under control to set up grazing for next year.  Don't let this year's conditions affect next year's potential!" he says.

Piers suggests first walking the pasture and assessing it in terms of soil conditions and grass cover and quality. He recommends using a plate meter measure to establish what the wedge looks like.

"The good decisions you could make now from the information provided by a plate meter will pay for it many, many times over," he stresses.

"Decide which paddocks are still too wet to do anything with, which are nearly there and which ones can you act on today. Select those you can cut to reinstate the residual. Put the grass into bales, or if conditions are appropriate pre mow, wilt and graze it. Once the residual is reinstated, the regrowth will be of higher quality and the grass under your control again."

He says that last week, growth rates nationally were about 40kg of DM/ha/day, so budget on 40-50kg DM/ ha/day growth going forward, depending on temperature. This will mean a cut field, including any silage aftermaths, will be ready to graze in about three to four weeks. Plan what you cut so you're not left short of grazing until the regrowth comes on board.

"For some fields which have got away, you may have to graze as best you can and accept that you won't hit residuals, in order to utilise as much as possible. It may then be a good idea to put the mower in after the cows, to clear up and recreate the residual," Piers says.

These reinstated residuals will grow well and provide quality grazing but what is as important is getting grass covers under control so that you can shut fields up in October for early grazing next season.

"It is imperative that we don't leave too much old cover going into the winter because it will affect quality next spring, and in severe cases, hinder grazing potential for a large lump of next season.

"If your soil is just too wet to do anything now I would still urge you to walk the pasture and make a plan for when things improve. A plan gives you options."

This season really underlines the importance of good infrastructure such as tracks. They dramatically reduce the risk of a season like this and enable cows to graze well whatever the weather and soil type.

Keith Davis, who farms in Gloucestershire, has not had cows in at night at all this summer and has grazed all season on his heavy land at Lydney Park next to the Severn. He still has standing water in some paddocks but is able to access much of his available grass.

"The fact that we've been able to keep grazing continually throughout such wet conditions is down to our tracks," says Keith. "We have plenty of access points to make sure we are managing the wet conditions."

For more information on tracks follow these links to our tracks booklet and a short film on track construction with Gavin Green, farm manager at Lydney Park.