Grass Watch: Difficult conditions at turnout on our 7 farms

Welcome to Farmers Weekly’s new grazing series. Each month we will be visiting seven UK farms to report on their grass growth and management.

Independent grassland adviser Gareth Davies will be providing tips based on the farms’ experiences.

See the interactive map for an overview of the data recorded on each farm – click on the icons to open the information panel.

Read about the experiences of each farm at turnout  and Gareth Davies tips below the map.

See also: How a Welsh dairy farm has managed turnout after heavy rain

Farm facts:

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

Ben Richards

We dried the herd off on the 28 November and were still getting 25kg/day growth.

I started my last round on the 20 October, and by the end of November these paddocks were back at 2,750kg DM/ha and had to be grazed again before closing for winter.

I had enough pasture to continue grazing for another 10 days, but the wet conditions made it difficult so we transported the cows to drier ground at our rented drystock unit 11 miles away to graze fodder beet and silage or kale and silage.

I also had a few weeks away with my family to recharge before the new season starts.

The heifers arrived back from the rearer on the 15 January looking excellent – as they always do – and we now have 130 cows back home from the drystock unit. They have wintered very well. I can’t wait to get going.

Farm facts:

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

Richard Fryer

We aim to turn cows out by day around mid-February and hopefully graze 30% of the farm by the end of the month.

We start on the lower covers first as this allows us to clear some ground fast to hit this target.

These lower covers are also more palatable, which helps with the transition from silage to grass.

The farm measured at 2,297kg DM/ha on 21 January, however I feel the farm is actually closer to 2,500kg DM/ha, as we find the plate meter never truly reflects the opening covers properly.

All the paddocks look well, with very little winter kill, and we look forward to another good grass-growing year.

Farm facts:

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

Robert Craig

Arriving in spring with similar or even higher average cover than we closed at is a real bonus for us at Cairnhead.

Single-digit growth of about 3kg DM/ha/day during the winter has the grazing platform looking in great shape for an early start to the season.

If ground conditions allow, it should enable grazing to start towards the end of the month and once sufficient numbers are calved and back in production.

Splitting the 2015-born heifer calves into two groups (grass and housed) has proved an interesting exercise.

Spending their winter rotationally grazing the support area has seen the grazed half easily outperform the housed, growing an extra 0.3kg of DLWG, while also costing us considerably less to feed and manage.

Soil temp is steady at 6C – if only we could see a break in the rain we would be thinking about the first application of nitrogen.

Farm facts:

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

Sam Chesney

Cattle were housed late October with paddocks closed up at 7cm with the aim of early turnout at the end January with light cattle.

But this has been delayed by the wet weather, as even the quad is getting stuck in the fields.

The aim is to start grazing cattle at about 12cm as some swards got a light grazing with some sheep over the winter.

The slurry open period started on the 1 February, and when ground conditions improve, a light application on some paddocks will kickstart better growth.

Urea has been used for a number of years, but we are going to use a combination fertiliser to spread the risk of weather as it is too dry for urea and too wet to apply nitrogen.

Farm facts:

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

Andrew Crow

The Stabiliser cows came from the LFA permanent grass at a height of 425m during November, where for the first time they have been strip grazing forage rye instead of grass silage in the shed.

The plan was to outwinter the cows, then put them in for calving early February, and once calved, back out on to the forage rye.

We are off to a flying start, having strip grazed last year’s grass leys from grass standing above our knees during October, we already have grass covers over 3,000kg DM/ha.

Average farm cover is 2,400kg DM/ha, which the most we have ever had at this time of year.

Farm facts:

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

Neil Perkins

All the paddocks had their final grazing on the last rotation before housing at the end of December.

Although, covers had not been taken as low as would have been liked. This was due to the wet weather turning the paddocks to mud on grazing.

Lambing is under way, with the main turnout date looking to be in the first week of March.

The ewes will be set stocked to mother up before the rotations start at the beginning of April. A low dressing of nitrogen will be applied as and when conditions allow.

We are keeping our fingers crossed that there will be no hard frost at the end of winter, hoping that grass growth will get away nicely in the spring.

Farm facts:

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

Mike Miller

Along with everyone else, the continued high rainfall has been a real challenge for us and has meant most winter grazing has become inaccessible with the farm’s heavy clay soils saturated.

A lot of stock has been housed, with a group of later-lambing ewes grazing swedes with a grass runback up on a nearby free-draining rented field.

Newer leys continue to grow at about 8-10kg DM/day, while permanent pasture growth is negligible.

A small amount of nitrogen has been ordered to kickstart the more productive swards at 50kg N/ha, and a load of Kalfos is also on order as a soil conditioner.

Ground conditions will very much dictate its application this year as opposed to soil temperatures, which are still hovering about 5C.

Analysis: Gareth Davies, independent grassland adviser

On most farms there is an unexpected amount of grass due to the unusual late autumn growth, but the unprecedented rainfall means ground conditions are terrible.

The most important and difficult thing for this first round of grazing is getting a good residual, and with poor ground conditions and an abundance of grass it will be very easy to not hit target residuals.

If the residuals are not hit in the first round, farmers will compromise quality on the key second rotation. I say key, because in April you want top-quality grass; either for cows that are going to be served at the end of the month or for sucklers/ewes that need to be milking well for their offspring.

Also, because the offspring themselves will be grazing. Poorer quality on this round will have a detrimental effect on animal or farm performance.

To ensure the best quality on that second round make sure you plan the first rotation. Key to getting a good residual is grazing pressure.

Offer small blocks and graze it quickly; no more than 24 hours. Use back fencing to prevent unnecessary damage. If the weather is poor, graze your lighter covers. This will enable better clean out of the paddock and avoid trampling in the heavier covers.

This first grazing is not necessarily to fully feed the animal; it is to set up the farm for the year ahead.

Just remember that every time you graze a field you are setting the quality of the next grazing. Also, fields that are grazed in early spring grow 15% quicker than fields not grazed.