1 March 2002

Flexible grazing solves early turnout dilemma

By Hannah Velten

WET conditions and early grass growth are compounding the dilemma of when to turn beef and dairy cattle out.

But consultants are urging flexible, earlier grazing to avoid grass becoming too strong.

Latest Kemira T-Sum results show last weeks cold snap slowed progress in the few remaining areas – the Grampians and small areas of the southern uplands – that are still below T-Sum 200.

But T-Sum 200 was reached over most of country a fortnight ago and continue to march ahead with another 25-50C over the week, bringing totals to 300-450C.

MDC grazing consultant Debbie Topp reports a few dairy producers in the south-west grazing cows for three hours a day. "This short period of grazing prevents pasture damage and cows make use of young, quality grass.

"However, this system is being used on farms with good infrastructure, particularly cow tracks, allowing easy access to pasture. Grazing management is a priority for them."

Some early turnouts, by day only, on farms which locked up pasture early last October are reported by Staffs-based independent dairy consultant Ian Browne.

But Mr Browne believes most producers must change their attitude to turnout, rather than believing it is too early or wet to turnout in early/late February. "Be prepared to graze highly nutritious grass when possible, otherwise grass will be too strong for cows by early to mid-April.

"Dont be mislead by the lower than expected grass covers because growth will overtake cows at least by late April/early May. This will mean chasing to keep on top of grass throughout the season, with more silage made than normal and a lack of grazing in dry months."

He suggests flexible grazing management and common sense are key components to using early grass and avoiding poaching. "Try turning out cows 10-14 days earlier than usual. This may mean staggered grazing, but grass quality will be maintained all year. Have the confidence to turn out earlier.

"Move cattle to where its dry and never graze the same piece of grass twice during a rotation. Fertiliser must be put on when ground conditions allow, even if this is only on some fields. When grass becomes too long, work from the back to the front of pasture preventing cattle from walking over bare land."

SAC beef specialist Basil Lowman reports extremely wet ground, with poaching a major problem. "But grass has hardly stopped growing all winter."

He suggests beef producers turn out a few light cattle during dry days, rather than the whole herd, and bring them in if wet weather returns. "Why feed a huge amount of silage in the spring when grazed grass is available, cheaper and requires less effort?"

But when turnout is delayed until mid-May, long grass will greet stock. "This will become trampled, causing patches of open sward and 30-50% loss in potential output," says Dr Lowman.

"To use this grass efficiently and produce a more uniform sward, mow four or five swaths parallel to cattle kept behind an electric fence. They will chomp quickly through grass swaths." &#42

Make the most of early grass, but be flexible and use common sense when grazing to avoid poaching, advises Ian Browne.

&#8226 Avoid poaching.

&#8226 Make use of early grass.

&#8226 Be flexible in approach.