24 April 1998

Wet pasture is forcing grazing plan revisions

By Jessica Buss

DIFFICULTIES in grazing cattle without damaging pasture have left most producers with too much grass which will have to be cut for silage to avoid waste and maintain grass quality for grazing.

New Zealand grazing adviser Paul Bird, working in the UK for the BGS, says poor weather has highlighted the difficulties of grazing without access tracks. Most producers now have too much grass that is getting too long to graze. Even those who turned cows out early had to bring them in again.

"It may be necessary to cut silage on the grazing area to reduce average grass cover." Cows grazing rotationally should be entering paddocks at a cover of 3000kg DM/ha or 12cm (4.8in), and the average cover should be 2000-2300kg DM/ha. Mr Bird expects grass growth rates which slowed during cold wet weather to have picked up this week.

"Producers that allocated half-an-acre a cow for next months grazing must be prepared to cut that back, possibly to a third-of-an-acre, to avoid grazing long grass," says Mr Bird.

But assess grass stocks first to ensure enough is left for grazing.

It may be best to take any surplus for silage as soon as possible to allow regrowth for grazing sooner. But he warns that grass nitrates may be high and when this is the case cutting may need delaying.

Axients Neil Adams also predicts that grass growth will explode. "There will be a phenomenal amount of waste and producers will have to restrict the grazing area and cut surplus for silage."

Those who have good access to pasture and have been able to graze are the winners, he says. "At least theyve been able to control grass height over part of the farm."

At IGER North Wyke, Devon, cows have been out and poaching reduced by using a new grazing technique, says Nigel Young. This involves allocating a larger block of grass – about two daytime grazings – with two gateways.

"Cows go out after milking, mostly in the morning, but on wet days they have gone out in the evening instead. But they are not shut into paddocks, so can go back to the buildings without being rushed through gateways."

Cows have grazed for at least three hours a day since Mar 19, reducing silage fed by up to 20kg a cow a day (5.6kg DM a cow).

To limit poaching at SACs Crichton Royal Farm, Dumfries, cows currently grazing are managed in three 40-50 cow groups which are set stocked, explains David Roberts. Fewer cows go through each gateway and as the grass is quite long there is little poaching damage. "But when it is sensible to do so, be flexible and keep cows in," he advises.

GRASS MANAGEMENT

&#8226 Be flexible when wet.

&#8226 Cut surplus as silage.

&#8226 Restrict grazing area.