7 March 1997

March forage at £6 a tonne and its called grass

Grazing in March, where its possible, will save costs. NZconsultant Paul Bird reports

SOME farmers in the UK and Ireland are feeding their cows forage in March costing £6/t. It is equivalent to, if not better quality than, concentrates. Its called grazed grass.

The cost of growing grass is around £6/t fresh weight or £30/t of dry matter. Silage and concentrates are two to six times more expensive.

Milk production a cow has not dropped on these farms grazing in March, and there have been saving on feed and associated expenses.

It makes sense then to focus on grazed grass as a high quality feed to be used efficiently, rather than as a second cousin to concentrates and silage. This will improve farm profits, reduce workload and be kinder on the cows and the environment.

Most areas in Ireland have a suitable climate to carry grass over the winter to have it available for grazing in March and in some cases February. Many parts of the UK also have a suitable climate for this type of management, particularly in the south of England and Wales.

Aim to graze when paddocks contain no less than 2300 to 2500kg dry matter/ha (8-10cm). Dry matter/ha is the standard way of describing the amount of grass in a paddock. There is no point in putting cows in a paddock if there is no grass, even if the ground is dry. In wet conditions grazing very short grass will cause unacceptable poaching damage.

Access is the key to using early grass. When there is poor access to paddocks, plan to build farm roadways over the summer/autumn. Cows should not have to walk over one paddock to get to another.

Early grazing is still possible, however, even when your farm roadways are less than ideal. Temporary laneways using electric fence reels running down the side of paddocks can be erected 1.5m (5ft) wide connecting one paddock to the next.

Cows should be offered fresh grazing at least every 24 hours. With this in mind it is important to ration the grass on your farm so it lasts until some time in April when grass growth is above animal demand. Use a longer rotation than the traditional 20 days, and an electric wire will be essential to ration the grass effectively.

To minimise poaching damage when grazing early in the season its best to adopt an on/off grazing approach. This is simply grazing cows for a short time and then taking them off the ground. Farmers grazing earlier than usual are using this technique successfully in wet conditions.

In two hours of grazing a cow can consume one-third of its daily energy requirements. So it is definitely worthwhile to graze even for a few hours after the morning milking. Ensure the cows want to graze by not feeding cows three to four hours before they go to grass. This means they see grass as a food rather than a mattress to lie on.

In wet conditions where poaching is occurring, take cows off after two hours. But as grass cover builds and conditions improve cows can be left grazing longer.

NZconsultant paul Bird…aim to graze when paddocks contain no less than 2300-2500kg DM/ha.


Paul Bird, NZ grazing consultant who has been working in the Irish Republic, will be running grass management discussion groups in southern England and Wales from next week. He will be joined in mid-April by NZ Livestock Improvement Corporations consultant John Simmonds, who will be based in Cheshire and run groups in the north of the country. Both consultants have been brought over by the British Grassland Society with the help of Genus Ltd. For further details contact BGS on (01734-318189).