Rotational grazing can halve beef feed costs, says Teagasc

Turning out suckler cows or youngstock into grass paddocks, even for just a few hours a day, can be a real money saver.

It may seem like a radical approach to spring grazing management to those more used to a set-stocked system, but if ground conditions allow, it can produce good weight gains for less.

Adam Woods, beef specialist at the Teagasc Beef Research Centre, Eire, says the cost of grass in terms of usable dry matter – at 75% use rate – is about 7p/kg of dry matter compared with silage at 15p/kg of dry matter.

Top grazing tips

  • Shut up paddocks in the late autumn to build covers to 8-10cm in height
  • Split fields into sizes that suit your system and mob sizes
  • Fields should be taken down to 4.5cm before moving cows onto the next paddock

“Suckler weanlings kept inside can be eating 2kg of concentrates a day plus silage at a cost of about 76p- £1.14/day to achieve a liveweight gain of 0.5kg/day.

“If these 400kg cattle are turned out to grass, we see costs fall by more than half and yet they have the ability to gain at least 1kg/day.

It is one of the major cost-saving technologies farmers can employ on their farm very simply,” says Mr Woods.

See also: Supermarket grazing project ups sheep farm’s grass quality

AHDB Beef and Lamb says as a rough guide the cost of feeding suckler cows on forage is twice as much as allowing them to graze grass, while feeding concentrates is four times as expensive.

The Teagasc Centre system sees 40% of the farm’s grass being grazed by 17 March and 100% grazed by 8 April.

Mr Woods says shutting up paddocks in late autumn, in preparation for suckler cows to graze in the spring, should become routine practice if the best use is to be made of early-season grass with an 8-10cm sward height.

“We are seeing more suckled calf producers following the grazing patterns of dairy farmers. When a cow is turned out full time she starts by eating what she needs to, but then spends time loafing around the field and doing damage to the sward.

“If ground conditions allow, it is better to turn cows out in small groups – say 25 animals – for short periods so they eat what they need. After that they can come back inside.”

See also: Rotational grazing helps farmer to double meat output

“It’s a system that relies on adopting a more flexible approach to turnout dates and to making the most efficient use of the available grass.”

Suckled calf producers considering making more of spring grass should split fields into paddock sizes that suit their system.

“There’s no need to follow existing boundaries and fence lines. Set up a system that allows cows to be moved from area to area without having to graze grass that has been trampled,” says Mr Woods.

Despite this winter’s wet conditions, the mild weather has allowed grass to keep growing, so Mr Woods says it is important to get cows out to graze this grass as soon as possible.

“Get cows out onto these pastures as soon as possible if conditions allow. The heavy cover of winter grass needs eating off to kick-start regrowth.

“Fields need to be taken down to about 4.5cm, but there are no hard-and-fast rules about stocking rates because you have to be flexible. It’s a grazing management system that has to be monitored and responded to on a daily basis.”