PhD: Optimum grazing systems for youngstock

Robert Patterson



  Research Partner: Agrifood and Biosciences Institute

  Start and end date:  October 2016 to September 2019

  PhD Student: Robert Patterson




I have recently started my PhD with Queen’s University Belfast together with AFBI, which is kindly sponsored by AHDB. As the title of the PHD suggests, it is focused upon the rearing systems of replacement dairy heifers. The two main areas of research are:

1) the potential role and benefits of enhanced grassland management and;

2) opportunities and benefits of incorporating precision technologies into heifer grazing systems. The research will not only show and quantify what can be achieved through grazed grass but also how systems and technology can be practically implemented. The overall goal is to develop more efficient, innovative and sustainable heifer rearing systems.

Heifer rearing is an extremely important aspect of a dairy business as it will ultimately govern to some degree the performance of the business in the future. However it is often neglected and can also represent a high proportion of the costs in the business. Grazed grassland is the cheapest feed resource available to farmers, whilst also being one of the most difficult resources to manage. Increasing the production, utilisation and the proportion of grazed grass in the diet of growing heifers will enable heifer rearing systems to become more efficient and sustainable.

The project will consist of two grazing trials, the first of which will be using autumn born dairy heifers in their first season at grass. Trial design is currently being finalised but could potentially involve differing stocking rates, group sizes or grazing management such as rotational or strip grazing. On a weekly basis grass growth and quality will be measured and animal live weight and body condition score shall be measured on a fortnightly basis. Precision technology will be used in the measuring of the grass in the first grazing trial.