2016 grazing season starts here

Published 11 September 15

Autumn grazing and the start of the 2016 grazing season

With potentially another two to three months to go, this grazing season is not finished yet, but the management decisions you make now will have impacts across the winter and into next spring, says Piers Badnell, AHDB Dairy technical extension officer.

The last grazing round in the 2015 season, often in early October, is also the start of the 2016 grazing season. The order you lock up (which is also the order you will go out in next spring), finish off and the residual achieved have an impact on grazing quality next February and March.

Key topics:

  • Maximise grazing until the end of the season. If your aim is to graze until the end of November, now is the time to start building covers to help you extend the grazing season.
  • Most people will have had rain and the soil moisture to get good growth rates enabling the build of these covers.
  • To build the cover it is necessary to extend the rotation length. From mid-August onwards this should be out to 25 days, extending to 35 days by mid September and 45 days by early October.
  • In terms of covers this should translate to an average farm cover of 2,600kg DM/ha by October 1, and by the end of the last round in late November early December the average farm cover should be 2,000kg DM/ha.
  • Building covers means that cows going into covers of maybe 3,500kg DM/ha in the final round but, unlike earlier in the year, this cover will not have reduced in quality. As growth slows and leaves will not be appearing as quickly, the bottom leaf will not be dying off, rotting and decreasing quality.
  • It is imperative to hit the residual of 1,500kg
    DM/ha. Going into winter swards need to be cleaned out. The higher quality regrowth will weather any harsh conditions far better than old growth.
  • This is backed up by Forage for Knowledge analysis over the last five years which shows February grazed grass, locked up in October, consistently analysing above 12ME and, more importantly, actually feeding well and producing results.
  • To help build covers an application of nitrogen in early September of 30kg N will give a good response and drive growth – cut off being 15 September for NVZ rules.
  • The last round should start in early October and last 60 days to the end of November.
  • Teagasc from Ireland recommends an autumn rotation planner of grazing 60% of the grazing block in the first 30 days, split equally per day, and the remaining 40% in the second 30 days.
  • Hitting good residuals are all important for quality in the spring and some farmers have found the use of salt, spread at 50kg/acre (ground Cleveland or Cheshire rock salt) helps with palatability and achieving results.

On-off grazing

In wet weather, on-off grazing can be used to graze covers out. This entails two periods of three hours grazing (or until cows are full if shorter) and reduces the impact of poaching on wet ground. Turn the cows out with a good edge to their appetite. They will graze hard, doing less damage as they wonder about less. Three hours should be enough for the cows to get full, as work from Ireland shows that in two, three hour blocks they will eat 95% of their requirement.


Well managed grazed grass should be 12ME in the autumn. Crude proteins should also remain high, but if we get a wet autumn then we do need to monitor dry matter intakes accurately. With the days getting shorter, and heavy dews and rain, dry matter can drop to mid teens.