Beef farmer adopts dairy mindset to overhaul grazing

Rotational grazing is allowing suckler beef farmer Matt House to grow 13t of dry matter (DM) a hectare – nearly twice the national average.

By investing £2,000 in fencing and water infrastructure, he has more than doubled stock numbers on the same acreage – from the 1.1 live units (lu)/ha he had been achieving with set-stocking, to 2.5. Next year this will increase to 3 lu/ha.

Mr House says he adopted the mindset of a dairy farmer to overhaul the beef system.

See also: How to set up rotational grazing on your beef farm

“My neighbour paddock grazes 350 dairy cows and I could see no reason why we couldn’t do the same with beef.’’

Mr House believes rotational grazing is not difficult or labour intensive – as it is a legal requirement for stock to be checked daily, it only takes a few more minutes to open a gate or lift an electric fence.

Fencing and water

Fields range in size from 2ha to 6ha, so only the larger ones needed sub-dividing with electric fencing.

As all fields had an existing water supply, providing water for all paddocks in the sub-divided fields involved positioning the trough in the centre so it was accessible from all paddocks.

“It was straightforward and cheap to connect into the water supply with a normal polyethylene pipe,’’ says Mr House.

Matt House in a field with cattle

Matt House

Grazing quality

Mr House measures grass weekly with a plate meter and uses software programme Agrinet to calculate grass cover and the number of grazing days in each paddock.

Entry cover is influenced by the overall cover of the farm, but the target is 2,700kg DM/ha and cattle graze down to an optimum residual of 1,500kg DM/ha.

“Cows, especially suckler cows, are lazy – they want to eat all the young, sweet stuff and not bother to finish off what is left,” he says.

“You have to push them to graze it down, if you don’t get down to 1,500kg it will affect grass quality next time.

“If you can nail 1,500kg all the time you will get good-quality grazing right through the season.

“In the spring grass growth explodes, so we take paddocks out of the rotation for silage. Later in the season the cows have calves at foot, so the demand is greater when growth is slowing down,” Mr House explains.

To ensure that grass quality is maintained at this stage, the rotation is lengthened.

Soil health

Soils are sampled every three years and potash and phosphate application is matched to the requirements of each field instead of opting for blanket application.

“If P and Ks aren’t right, it doesn’t matter how much nitrogen you chuck on a field,” says Mr House.

“If you get the soil fertility right, get the paddocks set up and manage the grazing right, the system will perform for you,” he says.