Grass Watch: Growth slows as land dries

Drier weather has seen a slowdown in growth rates and a fall in grass covers on some of our Grass Watch farms this month.

Independent grassland consultant Gareth Davies says farmers should look to build grass covers to a peak in mid-September, ahead of their autumn balance date.

Click on the icons on the map below to see how our Grass Watch farms have fared in the past month, and for further detail scroll down past the map.

Ben Richards

Farm facts

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

The rain we had last month has now all gone, and we are drying up.

The hay/silage that has been fed for the past two weeks has pushed the round out to 28 days from 19.

Average farm cover has dropped by 70kg over the past month; 2,170kg is low enough, so I will up supplements fed to 4kg a cow a day and hope for rain.

Milk solids are lower than when on all pasture, but with Arla paying better in September/October, it will be best to feed more now to make sure I have good covers going into autumn.

Cows are back to 215. I have used culling to boost cashflow and to lower feed demand, which is better than buying N.

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

Although sun has been intermittent in the past month, consistent rainfall has sustained excellent grass growth, which is still running well ahead of demand.

A small area of silage(11ha) will be taken from the platform this week, with any surplus left standing to be grazed throughout the next few months.

Although farm covers will be high, youngstock will easily graze until the end of the year on deferred grazing, which is unavailable to the milking herd.

Milk solids, which dipped during a wet period at the beginning of the month, seem to have stabilised. Although lower than last year, they are consistent across both farms.

Mating is complete and September scanning results will determine how effective the past three months have been and if we need to try to get a few summer-calving cows pregnant.

Although dairy markets have lifted slightly and winter feedstocks now looking comfortable, there seems little incentive to produce more in the short term with the added expense of purchased feed.

Richard Fryer

Farm facts

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

Grass growth is reducing quicker than our demand at present, so we are feeding some big-bale silage to the far-off dry cow group.

These bales were made from surplus grass on the milking platform earlier in the season.

This should help push the round length out to 30 days until growth picks up again. 

Luckily, the standing hay crop looks good, as more and more close-to-calve cows and heifers are moving into this group each week.

This group also receives 2.5kg of dry cow rolls and some hay each day. 

Our clamps are starting to look more ready for winter as wholecrop wheat and third-cut have been done.

The fourth cut should be ready by the end of this month.  

Mike Miller

Farm facts

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

August is never a very exciting month for grass measuring and assessing quality.

A prolonged dry period with high temperatures has meant a dramatic slowdown in growth rates and dry, stalky pasture in many areas of the farm.

Unlike the newer leys, the older, low-input permanent pastures sometimes come into their own during a dry period with lots of green leaf and very little seed heading.

We try to use this period to clean out any pastures with a lot of dead matter in the base using a high stocking rate of fit ewes.

The plantain/clover fields have continued to perform well and lamb growth rates from it are very pleasing.

Our thoughts will soon be turning to the autumn flush and building covers for the winter.

Sam Chesney

Farm facts

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

We had unbelievable growth this past month, with growth in excess of 95kg/ha with dry matter at 14.9%, ME 18.3 and protein at 18.3%.

Coupled with growth, we had difficult silage conditions, with showers or even a few gales most days. Grazing covers have increased to slightly more than 3,000kg DM/ha and demand has increased as calves continue to grow.

Silage and wholecrop are now harvested, as well as 20 bales/ha of red clover.

A very small acreage will be cut a third time and more breeding ewes have been purchased to make use of extra grass.

This decision has been taken as I feel I can make better use of winter grass and hope to improve swards.

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

There has been little change over the past month. We are starting to burn off a bit in areas with shallower soils.

It is raining as I write this. Hopefully this will green things up.

We have managed to secure some winter arable ground from a neighbour, who has direct drilled some cover crops for us.

This should leave grass free from mid-December, ready for spring turnout.

The focus is now on planning grass for tupping. Most of the ewes are tupped in single-sire groups, so we will need a fair few paddocks for this.

The last haylage for the year was taken at the beginning of the month. This leaves the whole platform for grazing.

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

Grass growth from the new leys has dropped from the dizzy heights of 100kg DM/ha/day down to 10kg DM/ha during the past two weeks.

The permanent pastures are growing slightly better at just 20kg DM/ha/day.

The clover is really showing its worth as it starts to dominate the swards – pushing up our growth rates once again.

The choice of straight red clover to fulfil our 5% greening requirement has proved to be a good one after some poor decisions on my part.

Firstly, not topping at an early stage led to a high weed infestation in the first silage cut.

Secondly, not using an additive led to poor fermentation due to a lack of natural sugars in red clover.

The subsequent cuts of wrapped bales are 35% DM, 10.5 ME and 16.5% crude protein.

The bales will be placed in the fields of forage, rape and turnips, so they can be strip-grazed by Stabiliser weanlings over winter – aiming to achieve 1kg/day average growth.

Gareth Davies, independent grassland adviser

As I mentioned last month, everyone should be looking to build covers to a peak in mid-September.

Your peak target will depend on stocking rate, but a rough guide would be about 400kg DM/LU of available cover. A target of 2,700kg DM/ha won’t work for someone stocked at 1.8 LU/ha and someone stocked at 3 LU/ha.

In effect, if you are stocked at 2.5 LU/ha you will need 1,000kg (2.5 x 400) plus your 1,500kg residual. So you would need an average farm cover of 2,500kg on your autumn balance date.

Autumn balance date is when growth dips below demand. Again this is determined by stocking rate.

If your stocking rate is only 1 LU/ha, your autumn balance date will probably be later than someone with a stocking rate of 3 LU/ha. I say probably because if your 1 LU/ha farm is in Scotland in a poor grass-growing area, your autumn balance date may be earlier than a 3 LU/ha farm in Cornwall.

All of this proves that each farm needs its own specific grazing plan.

No two farms – or farmers – are the same, so an individual plan to get the most out of the grass on your farm is sensible. You will be surprised how much of an effect a grazing-management plan can have on your business.