Welsh dairy farmers should plan ahead to ensure they’re getting the most out of the tail end of summer grazing.
Independent grassland consultant Gareth Davies says few farmers plan grazing covers and as a result grassland quality suffers.
He explains it has been one of the best grass-growing seasons for a long time, but dry weather over the past month means growth has slowed on many farms.
He says: “A lot of people are doing a lot more grazing this year than they would have done normally [because of the good growing season], so it makes sense to plan ahead.
“There’s not enough planning put into grazing on most farms.
“The focus now should be on getting the tail end of summer sorted out and planning for the autumn.
“Work back from whatever your expected housing date is likely to be and put a suitable plan in place to allow you to graze until then,” he advises.
Housing in November
Allocate covers of 400kg DM/ha a livestock unit. For example, three cows will require 1,200kg DM/ha, plus 1,500kg residual, up to a maximum of 2,700kg DM/ha in total. Any more than this will mean some of the covers will be too high to graze out to a 1,500kg DM/ha residual, which is vital for the final round.
For example, farmers looking to house in October should start thinking about how many grazing days are left until housing multiplied by the number of cows multiplied by demand a day to get a clearer picture.
Mr Davies says if farmers are aiming to house cows in November it is imperative they have enough cover in September (see example in “Planning cover”, right).
Grass growth slows in mid-September and then demand starts to outstrip supply – known as the autumn balance date, he explains.
“By this point you need to have built up as much grass as you can on the farm, to allow you to extend your grazing out into late autumn,” he adds.
He says a common mistake made on many farms is grazing grass covers continuously, too hard.
“Forty-eight hours is the maximum amount of time cows should be on any one given area, because after that you start compromising the regrowth.
“The plant shoot is full of sugar so cows will eat the shoot, and the plant will have used its reserves to push up the first leaf, so in effect you will drain the plant’s battery.”
Mr Davies says hard grazing also leaves little material for photosynthesis and it will take longer for grass to regenerate.
“If you have a large area, back fence it or split fields before you go into them to protect that re-growth,” he advises.
Ideally, he says, a residual of 1,500kg DM/ha should be left to enable good regrowth.
“There are quite a few farmers I deal with that take grass samples throughout the year and never dip below 11.5MJ/kg DM of metabolisable energy because they are managing grass correctly.
“They are putting focus on grazing it at the correct heights and correct covers.”
Good grassland management sets the precedent for the next season, he says. “The residuals you leave in the fields this time sets the quality for the next round.”