Grass Watch: Advice on controlling surpluses in your grazing round

All seven of our Grasswatch farms have been pre-mow grazing or taking paddocks out of the rotation and making silage to cope with surplus grass this month.

Independent grassland consultant Gareth Davies offers advice on how to deal with surplus, providing practical guidance on topping heights if you live in a high rainfall area.

Rejection can also be a problem at this time of the year, as quality can diminish as grass gets away. He also gives some tips on how to deal with rejection and how to avoid it in the next round.

Click on the icons on the map to check the progress on each of the Grass Watch farms and read further detail below the map.

See also: Time to focus on surpluses for Grass Watch farmers

Richard Fryer

Farm facts

  • Location: Northwich, Cheshire
  • Land: Total 97ha, 40m above sea level
  • Stock: 230 autumn-calving Friesians

Hot, dry weather has seen growth rates dip a little, but it has given us a chance to do some pre-mowing in front of the cows.

With long daylight hours during the fourth grazing round, some of the paddocks were showing more seed heads and stalk than we would like.

The cows have cleared nearly all the mown grass and we have quality pasture coming back for the next round.

The good weather also allowed us to do our second cut on 6 June. This has filled one clamp nicely and made up for a lighter first cut.

Ben Richards

Farm facts

  • Location: Helston, Cornwall
  • Land: Total 146ha, at 110m above sea level
  • Stock: 280 Jersey cross Friesians

Consistent growth in the past month has helped deal with my surplus and maintain average farm covers.

We now only have 2ha at home and 4ha on the wintering unit (pre-Kale) left to cut.

The heifer calves went away to my rearer on 4 June, so the whole milking platform is available to the milkers.

The growth dropped away last week to 78kg of dry matter a day due to lack of rain, but it is raining now, so I expect growth to shoot back up.

After three weeks of AI, 96% of the herd were served. The bulls found the other 4% pretty quick. Looking at the tail paints, I hope to have 75%+ in-calf to AI.

Robert Craig

Farm facts

  • Location: Cumbria
  • Land: Total 210ha and ranges from 160-210m above sea level
  • Stock: 430 spring-calving New Zealand/Kiwi-cross cows

Low soil moisture levels, rapid seed head appearance and low growth have been focusing our decision-making in the past few weeks.

After little rain in May and the first week of June, we enjoyed about 12mm of very welcome rain last weekend.

Recent growth rates appear variable – possibly due to rapid stem growth from drought stress – and was worryingly close to the level of demand for much of the latter part of May and early June.

On both farms we are pre-mowing paddocks where rejection and quality are becoming an issue, lowering the base of the sward and ensuring quality for subsequent grazings.

Silage was cut from almost 30% of the farm in early June, taking a small amount from the milking platform where the resulting regrowth will be welcome.

Supplements remain low, although we did have a slight blip on one farm when the dry spell looked as if it was here to stay, pushing up to 4kg a cow a day for a brief few days.

Sanity has now thankfully returned.

Mike Miller

Farm facts

  • Location: Blandford, Dorset
  • Land: 106ha, 100m above sea level
  • Stock: 420 NZ Suffolk cross Mules and 100 NZ Romney ewes

We missed the worst of the heavy rain in the first half of June, but frequent showers and warm soils have kept grass growth rates high.

Excess grass has been been put into round-bale silage when the weather permits and a staggered approach means we can manage grazing the regrowth easier.

Plantain and clover sowings are growing apace, although my sowing rate in one field was a bit off and some remedial work may be needed in the autumn.

Next will be a battle with a flush of thistles and docks. The late-February-born NZ Suffolk and Sufftex lambs have been weaned and put on to clean grazing to maintain good growth rates.

Sam Chesney

Farm facts

  • Location: Kircubbbin, Northern Ireland
  • Land: Total 30m and sits above sea level
  • Stock: 150 Limousin sucklers

It has been a busy time making silage, along with 6ha of bales from paddocks. It should have been more, as grass growth has been fantastic.

Careful management of grazing paddocks has resulted in cutting and baling. However, topping has now started on areas that were not grazed down hard enough, although I know this is wasteful.

Normally those paddocks would be taken out and baled, but in peak breeding season, I prefer cows to have more.

My reseed will be cut in July then rejoin the grazing block. Fertiliser on the second cut was applied along with 2,000g slurry, 75 units of N and 60 of potash.

Neil Perkins

Farm facts

  • Location: Dinas Island, north Pembrokeshire
  • Land: Total 223ha at 200m above sea level
  • Stock: 2,100 Lleyn ewes and 700 ewe lambs

Over the past month, grass has burst into life.

Management has almost been more challenging than when we were short.

Silage was made on the paddocks removed from the rotations. Yields impressed, with an average crop of 4,500kg DM/ha, 42 days from grazing, to 1,800kg DM/ha.

We have now met our conserved winter feed demand.

Weaning has been done and regrowth on the aftermaths is looking good to run the lambs on.

The ryegrass and brassica mix will be ready to graze in two weeks and is so far looking as if it will give a good amount of feed.

The plantain/clover/chicory sward will be used with the red clover grass mix to grow breeding tup lambs.

Andrew Crow

Farm facts

  • Location: Newport, Shropshire
  • Land: Total 310ha, 360m above sea level
  • Stock: 143 Stabiliser cows with steers finished for his own butchery business

When I wrote my previous article, grass levels were below 1,200kg DM/ha, but were growing rapidly.

The three weeks with low levels of grass resulted in lower growth rates for the lambs compared with last year by some 30g/day, and is showing no signs of catching up.

Much of the grass is also starting to reach a head before hitting the target yield for silaging.

We have started pre-mowing for the fattening cattle to get some control back, with the added bonus of taking out the few nettles and thistles.

The warming conditions and 25mm of rain this week means we will now have some quality grazing.

Advice from independent grassland specialist, Gareth Davies

The story for June has been one of managing the grass while it is trying to go to seed.

Because of the amount of growth at this time of year it is very difficult to manage the grass just with livestock, so mechanical intervention is required.

The obvious thing to do is to bale any surplus, but if overall covers don’t allow fields to be closed for silage, pre-mowing is another option.

It certainly pays to have planned the grazing at this time of the year so if you need to mow surplus, this is on the most suitable fields.

Rejection around dung pats can also be an issue; again planning is useful.

If you bring your livestock out of a paddock and there is a lot of rejection visible, make a note of it and next time round, if there is sufficient grass on the farm, you can skip that paddock and bale it for silage or pre-mow it.

If you insist on topping, remember why you are doing it – to reset the growing point, not to make it look pretty for your neighbours. You need to cut it down to about 3.5-4cm.

If you live in an area of historically low rainfall, it is worth leaving slightly higher residuals to try to protect the soil against the effects of sun and wind by providing a little extra canopy cover. Aim for 6cm or 1,800kg DM.