27 February 1998

Early grazing must have right balance

SUCCESSFUL early grazing depends on achieving the right balance between starting too early and ending up with the whole farm bare, and leaving it too late with the result that grass gets out of control.

Speaking at a farm walk on Peter Wastenages Tidwell Barton, Budleigh Salterton, Devon, consultant Paul Bird said he could not see how extended grazing would work unless the silage area was included in the early grazing block. He had seen no convincing evidence that silage quality or quantity would be significantly reduced if an early grazing was taken first, provided it was a quick-on, quick-off grazing followed by a suitable rest period.

Mr Bird said it was essential to have enough grass cover on average over the whole area to ensure a good growth rate. That meant having a big enough area while grass grew relatively slowly, and ensuring there was adequate grass leaf area to encourage good growth rates.

For example, in mid-February this year, grass left bare after tight sheep grazing was growing at only 5kg dry matter a hectare a day, whereas a sward with adequate leaf area was producing 20kg a hectare a day.

By strictly controlling grazing so that the average cover over the whole early grazing area was enough to give that higher average growth rate, the supply of grass at this time was increasing four times as fast as if the whole area was bare, said Mr Bird. &#42

Nearly 80 farmers attended last weeks open day at Tidwell Barton, where cows spend four hours at grass each morning before moving on to kale.