5 September 1997

Tracks vital for wet access to grazed grass

PRODUCERS struggling to graze plentiful grass in wet conditions should persist, and those set stocking are urged to consider setting up a temporary rotational system.

According to British Grassland Society grazing consultant Paul Bird many producers have grass but cant get to it to graze.

"Wet conditions are where tracks are a huge benefit. If there are insufficient tracks on the farm, its best to divide fields into feeds using a temporary electric fence, and walk cows over long grass to the back of fields to graze.

"At each grazing, cows should be moved forwards using temporary electric front and back fencing. The long grass will stand up better to cows walking over it than short grass, reducing poaching damage," advises Mr Bird.

Although some producers may be considering taking a late silage cut, its expensive and not necessary, says SACs Johnny Bax.

"With most clamps full, baling is the only option, which is expensive. The alternative is to set up for extended grazing – which can benefit set stocked herds too."

Making use of this grass by extending the grazing season will also help maintain margins. An extra three to four weeks of grazing, with cows out three to four hours a day should increase yields by up to two litres a cow a day, says Mr Bax. "For a 90-cow herd, the potential benefit of an additional 25 days grazing is £450."

He suggests producers close off a field now and let it regrow for grazing later in the autumn rather than make silage. "Its important to choose a field with good access. Allow about 0.2ha/cow/day and you will be able to work out how long the area will last."

As long as growthy conditions last, producers could apply fertiliser – to a maximum of 50kgN/ha (40 units/acre) – to help encourage growth, he says. "But be wary about fertiliser where conditions are cold and wet, where a large proportion is likely to be leached."

Topping may be needed to maintain sward quality where there is a lot of grass, says Staffs-based independent consultant Ian Browne. Use a mower in preference to a topper – this will cut rather than thrash grass and allow it to regrow quickly."

According to Mr Bax, the field set aside for extended grazing later this autumn should be divided up with temporary electric fencing. Access could be provided by fencing off a strip along the side of the field – this will be poached, but damage restricted to this area.n