Dairy producers should consider reducing grass to cows now and offering supplements, in a bid to extend the grazing season, said Dr John Roche of Dairy NZ.

Speaking at a recent DairyCo discussion group in Gloucestershire, he said adopting this approach would allow the grass to recover and reduce problems later in the season.

“If you’ve had heavy rain and the paddock looks poached up, don’t panic. In reality if the grass root is still in the ground and there is plenty of moisture the grass should come back pretty well. Give it a week, see how things are and maybe then think about doing something later in the season,” he added.

“And if you find yourself with a hole in your grazing wedge because land had been taken out for silage earlier in the season, it is important to remember that the three-leaf rule is crucial and not to get tempted to enter paddocks too early.”

He said it was harder to manage the three-leaf stage with a lower stocking rate because often producers are tempted to put cows out to grass too early or wait until the three-leaf stage to enter a pasture, meaning grass can get away from you. As a result, he said a higher stocking rate was preferable as these turnout and grazing decisions were already made for you.

In fact, he said by putting cows out to graze on pastures at the two-leaf stage, potential pasture grown could be reduced by 15-20%, as 50% of the pasture is grown at the third leaf stage.

“A longer rotation means more grass by default. You are allowing the grass time to grow that valuable third leaf. Walk the pasture, pull out a few plants and check leaf emergence. Use it as another piece of information about your grazing,” he added.

He recommended the following methods for grazing fields with reduced poaching:

  • Graze from the far side of the field first, so cows never walk over bare ground where they will do most damage.
  • Don’t feed buffer before the cows go out – let them go out hungry so they concentrate on eating, and then bring them back in after if needed.
  • Don’t forget how much water already exists in cows’ feed in wet conditions, and bear this in mind when looking at water trough access.
  • Consider the use of a “sacrifice track”. This doesn’t need to be wide as cows will walk in single file. This may increase walking time for milking but it is worth it in terms of reduced poaching.