Making the Most of Your Grass

Grazed grass is the cheapest feed for ruminant livestock; in terms of feed, good quality spring grass is hard to beat.

 
Improving grazing efficiency – get more feed from the same area

A rotational grazing system can improve the grazing efficiency of your livestock. Cattle or sheep set-stocked on a pasture may consume only 45-55% of the available dry matter, whereas an intensive rotational system, such as paddock grazing with daily shifts, can increase the utilisation to 80%. Not only is grass utilisation increased, but the shift from set-stocking to rotational grazing can increased total grass growth by up to 20%.

Aim to graze grass at the 3-leaf stage. Grazing prior to or after this point will reduce total dry matter production and/or grass quality. As grasses run to seed the fibre content increases and the digestibility and energy and protein content of the pasture as a whole declines.

Clover is higher in protein than grass, and has a high digestibility. The clover is stimulated to grow by light hitting the stolon, so in overgrown pasture the percentage of clover will fall. Overgrazing will kill the clover. Beware too high a clover percentage however, as it can lead to frothy bloat, and certain clovers can interfere with fertility.

Ploughing up and reseeding pastures, replaces less productive species with more productive ones. Choose a grass and clover mix to suit your grazing requirements, production aims and soil type. Remember to assess soil structure too. A compacted or waterlogged soil will always give disappointing yields.

Pasture budgeting

Measuring your grass is easy. You can go all-out and buy a platemeter which will measure the grass height and automatically calculate your dry matter cover, but a simple sward stick will enable you to get started- these are available from AHDB.

Once you have started measuring your grass a host of possibilities for increasing the efficiency of its use is available to you:

  • Use measurements of individual fields to decide when to put stock in and when to take them out again
  • Predict upcoming shortfalls of grazing

  • Decide whether grass growth is getting ahead of stock consumption and to shut fields up for conservation, or later in the season as deferred grazing
     
  • Plot an annual dry matter production and feed demand curve- this allows you to see whether there are :
    • Gaps you need to eliminate (for example by growing brassicas, feeding conserved forage, earlier sale of stock),

    • Excesses you can exploit (hay or silage production, buying-in store animals, renting out grazing) or

    • Fine-tuning you need to consider:

      • Should lambing or calving be shifted to match demand and production more closely?

      • Do reseeds need to contain drought-resistant varieties or plants (e.g. chicory)?

      • Do you need greater per hectare dry matter production or would more even production throughout the year be more beneficial?

For more information on grazing management, there are some handy publications from AHDB: (dairy) and (beef & sheep

Please feel free to speak to us about grazing management, and to get some advice on the other health aspects that might be affected by changing grazing system, e.g. parasite control.