Grass Watch: Growth rates take a hit after cold weather

After reporting unexpected amounts of growth last month, the frost has bitten into grazing covers on the majority of our seven Grass Watch farms.

In fact all monitor farms are reporting lower average farm covers than the previous month.

This is proving a difficult situation with farmers having to feed stock outdoors. Low soil temperatures are also holding up fertiliser spreading. 

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

See also: Grass Watch: Difficult conditions at turnout

Farm facts:

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

Ben Richards

I managed to start grazing on 18 February, just for three hours a day due to waterlogged paddocks. The cows made up their ration on self-feed silage.

By 23 February we had no more room for the cows to lie under cover, so we went out by night on the driest fields.

There has been some pugging damage (on about 24ha). Recent heavy, relentless rain has made me pull stock off the grazing for five days. Hopefully this will be long enough for the land to carry stock again, but if we have more rain it will take longer.

The past couple of days have been sunny and dry, so at least the cows have the sun on their backs, even if they have no grass. The first 50 calves went to grass today – they will have milk and concentrates for another four to five weeks.

Calving has gone very well, with half the herd calved naturally in 14 days and 80% in five weeks. We should be all done by 20 March. Calves have been a joy to rear, with minimal problems.

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

A nice, dry (although frosty at times) start to March has seen ground conditions improve on both farms.

We have seen only 17mm of rain so far this month and little is expected this week. As mild air moves in, it feels more like spring.

We have only just managed to apply the first nitrogen at 40kg/ha across the whole grazing area. It is slightly later than planned, although we have been following the milking cows with slurry where ground conditions have allowed.

Average measured cover looks low at about 2,000kg, although the plate meter often tells lies at this time of year when the frost has taken the top off the sward. I expect there is 10-15% more available than we think in our highest covers.

We are still feeding reasonably hard at 5kg and as the milking herd is still housed at night, silage is also still on offer almost ad lib. It’s often well into April before we get real growth in Cumbria, so prudence pays while we wait for growth to improve.

Farm facts:

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

Richard Fryer

No two years are ever the same. Last year the cows were out on 10 February – this year we only managed to get them out in February because there was an extra day in the month.

We have been very grateful for plentiful silage stocks, however this has left us way behind on our spring rotation planner.

Our contractor did manage to get some slurry on our off-lying ground in early March and with an improving weather forecast, he should soon be able to follow the cows around the platform. We have also applied 125kg/ha of fertiliser on all the grassland. With the delayed turnout we need to watch the grass wedge closely or we may end up short of grass in early April. Time will tell.

Farm facts:

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

Mike Miller

We are still waiting for a start to the grass-growing season.

Night temperatures have regularly hovered around freezing and continued spells of heavy rain mean any drying of the soils is soon reversed.

NZ Suffolk and Sufftex ewes and newborn lambs are being set-stocked on forward winter swards of 2,000kg DM/ha. Ideally I would like a smaller paddock area to achieve greater grazing pressure, but waterlogged soils make this impractical.

Scheduled soil analysis has had to be postponed until ground conditions improve. With a favourable forecast promised, we have our fingers crossed for spring to arrive as calving is under way and the commercial flock will lamb at the end of March.

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

What a difference a few weeks make. The forage rye in the arable rotation has saved the day as we are unable to put the first nitrogen on the permanent grass fields as they are too wet.

The turned-out freshly calved cows and calves are very happy on the forage rye, but having young calves makes back-fencing difficult, so some poaching is inevitable with so much rain.

There has been no grass growth during February and we only have one week’s grazed fodder left, therefore we will feed round-baled silage on those fields until the permanent grass fields dry up.

Farm facts:

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

Sam Chesney

It is nearly St Patrick’s Day and we have only just had the first sign of decent weather.

The Ards peninsula in general is yellow, with little slurry applied and virtually no fertiliser. On my farm we still have only sheep and lambs out, but a few cows and young calves will be out soon.

I ended up not sowing and spreading early fertiliser and am now opting for 27.5.5 plus sulphur. It is not  what I would usually use, but I feel the soil has been washed clean.

Slurry will be mixed and applied to silage ground in the next few days

Stocking rate on my grazing platform will be 5.5lu/ha, so I will need a good sward and well-performing grasses.

Reseeding will be wholecrop wheat with undersown grass and it will hopefully re-enter the grazing block in August.

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

We have finished lambing the ewes and by the time you read this should have lambed one-quarter of the ewe lambs.

So far lambing has gone very well and ewes and lambs are being turned out to grass at five ewes an acre. Once the ewes and lambs settle, we will start rotationally grazing.

Grass growth rates have been negligible. The swards are still quite open from all the wet weather. We are hoping a dressing of fertiliser will kickstart growth and we plan to apply 185kg/ha of ammonium sulphate as soon as ground conditions allow.

Gareth Davies

Gareth is an independent grassland adviser

The hangover of the wet winter continues. Ground conditions are very challenging, but soil temperature is now becoming more of an issue.

The recent dry spell has been very welcome, but inevitably it has come with cold night-time temperatures, and these low temperatures and still wet ground mean it is very difficult for soils to warm up. I have had soil temperatures in the past fortnight ranging from 2.5-7C across the country.

The focus now is on making sure the fields are all grazed by early April. This allows the grass plant to grow more aggressively – once you graze the plant it stimulates it to grow. Fields that have been grazed early in the spring will grow on average 15% quicker than fields that haven’t been grazed.

Rob Craig is quite correct in suggesting there is probably more grass than the plate meter reads. When I take grass samples, March grass is nearly always the highest DM grass of the year.

The majority of the samples I have taken this month have come back in the mid 20% for DM. It is also worth noting most of these samples have also come back above 11ME and one even analysed at 13.1ME. So although the ground conditions are challenging, the rewards for your early-season grass management will be quite significant.