Sheep 2012: Wet weather challenges grass management

Continuous wet weather may be creating some challenges for sheep producers, but it could also create the ideal opportunity to introduce new grass varieties into pastures.

Speaking to Farmers Weekly at Sheep 2012, Helen Mathieu from British Seed Houses said letting stock lightly “poach up” pasture and then re-seeding could help regenerate leys.


“Provided it is possible and you are careful not to let stock damage pastures, letting stock bring the soil to the surface and then – when it’s dry enough to travel with machinery – harrowing, sprinkling seed and rolling can help to improve grassland.

“Seed to soil contact is key to introducing new seed and the wet conditions will help with this.”

Ian Misselbrook, grass seed manager for Limagrain, agreed that provided ground was not over poached by livestock, using sheep to open up old grassland could be useful.

“Tetraploid ryegrasses are best for over-seeding as they are good at out-competing other grasses and will establish quicker,” he said.

Grass management

Liz Genever, senior beef and sheep scientist for EBLEX, said the main challenge at the moment was being able to manage swards effectively.

“Sward length is increasing, but it is difficult to graze without poaching and it is not possible to get machinery on ground to top grass,” she said.

“At this time of year, farmers need to be prioritise fields for weaned lambs.”

She said early weaning could be an option, but it was down to whether producers had good pasture to put lambs on to.

“You need to put weaned lambs on high quality swards to drive performance. If you only have low quality grass, there’s no point in weaning early.”

In a situation where land was not ideal, later weaning could be considered, alternatively something would need to be done to ensure grass was at the right height of 6-8cm for weaned lambs.

“Strip grazing is possible, but in wet conditions, fences will have to be moved daily to prevent poaching. Push weaned lambs through first and then bring the dry ewes in behind them.”

Finishing lambs

Rainfall also meant pasture would be low dry matter so lambs would have to eat a lot more to finish. In light of weaker lamb prices and high concentrate prices, Dr Genever recommended doing a cost benefit analysis to see if feeding creep to finish stock would be worthwhile.

“If lambs only have to put on another 3kg to finish, it may be worth feeding concentrate. Make a decision for each batch of lambs. You don’t have to creep feed every lamb, maybe just the top 10-15%.”

She also said variable quality meant testing batches of silage was even more important this year. Better quality cuts could then be targeted to the animals that needed it.

Forage crops

Ben Wixey, Midlands sales manager for Wynnstay, also advised changing crop strategy depending on what the weather dictates.

“For every two weeks after the 1 August that you drill turnips, you’ll lose half the yield,” he said.

“If crops such as barley are late coming off, it could delay turnip drilling. As a result it may be worth considering drilling something else, otherwise your crop will suffer.”

He suggested planting forage rape instead if drilling was delayed until the end of August or forage rye at the start of September.

Health challenges to look out for in wet weather

Vet Louise Silk from Endell Vets runs through some key areas for attention:

1) Scald

•There has been an increased incidence and decreased ability to deal with scald in ewes and lambs

•Scald and early foot-rot are very similar and scald in ewes could easily turn into foot-rot so early detection and treatment is crucial

•It is important to do all you can to run stock through a footbath and on to dry standing where they stand for at least half an hour to allow feet to dry.

For advice on controlling lameness visit our dedicated page

2) Worm risk

•In the current warm, wet conditions, worm burdens are growing. If this weather continues, burdens are likely to get higher

•Regular faecal egg counting is even more important – test every three weeks to keep on top of the problem

•Take advice from your vet as to the most appropriate strategy on your farm

3) Fluke

•Be aware that liver fluke can now be a problem all year round

•Everywhere is wet enough for fluke, not just marshland

•Keep an eye out for poor producing ewes, weight loss or bottle jaw

•If you suspect fluke, but think it’s the wrong time of year, it still may be fluke


For more on the NSA Sheep 2012 event

Go to our Sheep 2012 page