Grass Watch: Remarkable grass growth in rainy September

Heavier rainfall in September resulted in “remarkable” grass growth on our Grass Watch farms.

While a blessing for farmers in areas of low rainfall, grass covers are now too high for those in areas used to higher levels, says independent grassland consultant Gareth Davies.

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.

Mike Miller

Farm facts

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

The “autumn flush” hasn’t disappointed, with frequent heavy showers pushing growth rates up and clover becoming very prominent in many swards.

This is ideal for lamb finishing and picking up the ewes with lower body condition scores (BCS).

Some farmyard manure (FYM) has been spread with more to do in the weeks ahead – ground conditions permitting.

We have composed our initial winter forage budgets to give us an idea how we are fixed for the low grass growth in the months ahead.

The main crop of swedes is looking strong and will provide a good break from the pastures mid-winter, and hopefully allow us to maintain good covers moving into spring 2017.  

Robert Craig

It seems the only topic up for discussion in September among grazing farmers is whether there’s too much grass.

Farm facts

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

Perfect growing conditions in the past month have seen average cover on most farms peaking at least 200kg DM/ha higher than ideal.

With silage pits full, the challenge has been how best to use the extra grass productively, while also maintaining a productive young base in the sward in the run up to winter.

Although cleaning up reasonably well, both herds are going into higher than ideal covers, meaning grass quality is slightly compromised.

Alternating higher and lower covers can help, and deferring some of the highest covers for later grazing or bringing youngstock on to the milking area is also an option.

One benefit of having more grass than expected will be our ability to push silage feeding back further in to winter, especially for youngstock, with already sufficient grass on the farm to keep them going until towards the end of the year.

Per cow, production is reasonably stable for the time of year at 1.5kg of milk solids a cow. Although once the current spell of exceptional weather ends it’s likely we’ll see the usual slip as dry matter intakes reduce.

After a decidedly average start to the grazing year, 2016 has more than bounced back.

The next few weeks will be crucial to how successful the first part of 2017 will be.  

Richard Fryer

With so many cows on the standing hay and recent heavy rains, our farm covers have rocketed over the past few weeks.

Farm facts

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

All paddocks were grazed very tightly in August, meaning the farm is now covered in high-quality, dense, leafy swards – just in time for lots of fresh calved cows. 

We aim not to feed any silage to the milkers until early October, when we find falling dry matter in the grass makes silage feeding essential. But flexibility here is key. 

October is a big transition month for us, with silage quantity increasing daily until we close in early November with an average farm cover of around 2,200kg DM/ha. 

We have just reseeded 10% of the milking platform with late-heading, high-sugar, perennial rye grasses. 

This was burnt off, grazed with dry cows and then direct drilled. This will be ready for grazing in March.

Sam Chesney

We’ve had unbelievable growth in the last month, with grass growing in excess of 95kg/ha with a dry matter of 14.9%.

Farm facts

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

Quality is holding up well, with ME hitting 18.3 and protein 18.3%.

Coupled with growth, we have had difficult silage conditions, with showers most days and even a few gales.

As a result, grazing covers have increased to slightly over 3,000kg DM/ha, and demand has increased as calves continue to grow like mushrooms.

Silage and wholecrop are now harvested, also red clover with 20 bales/ha of clover.

So much has been conserved. 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 grass swards.

Ben Richards

Farm facts

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

Growth picked up quick after the rain.

I continued to feed 4kg DM/cow up to 1 September, with average farm cover increasing to as high as 2,550.

With current stocking levels my average farm cover is reducing by 50kg/week, with a planned dry-off date of 1 December leaving a closing cover of 1,900kg DM/ha.

This is 150kg DM/ha below target.

Silage stocks are OK but not overdone, so I will shift some more stock (send AA calves to market). This will reduce demand enough to achieve target covers.

We usually grow 35+ up to the end of November, so any future shortfalls will mean drying cows off or maybe some silage.

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

The experience of monitoring grass doesn’t mean you always have grass available, but it does warn you when you are likely to have none.

The very low grass growth rates of early August and a warning of a possible shortage triggered more attention to the cover crops following winter barely with great results.

Then 240mm of rain over next two weeks pushed growth rates to 70kg DM/day/ha, with clover dominating the swards.

The grass wedge for winter grazing is building nicely with covers at 3,000kg DM/ha.

As my last report, I can say monitoring grass growth and weighing cattle regularly has enabled us to increase kg/ha of beef produced with continually reducing costs.

Maybe there is money in beef after all.

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

Tupping is upon us now and the grass seems to have had a nice early autumn burst – this should flush the ewes well.
A form of rotational grazing will still take place over the coming couple of months, but due to the need for many paddocks for single sire mating it will not be quite as organized as before.
The whole platform will have its annual tidy-up when the ewes go into a large mob with sweeper rams and are moved from paddock to paddock taking it down to the desired level by the end of December.
Fields will then be rested until end of February turn out.
Lambs are finishing at a steady rate off the brassica crop, which has supplied as much forage in its second rotation as its first.

Gareth Davies, independent grassland adviser

Grass growth has been quite remarkable over the past month, which in lower rainfall areas has come as a blessing.

Whereas in the higher rainfall areas it has created an issue with covers too high.

Depending on your type of farming – beef, sheep or dairy – and depending on your calving/lambing dates, how you manage the critical autumn period will differ.

However, there are some basic things to think about when deciding on your closing rotations:

  • When will grazing resume in the spring?
  • If it is in February, which fields are likely to have the best ground conditions?
  • If it is in March, make sure you have sufficient covers to allow you to graze everything by mid-April.
  • How early will I graze my silage fields?
  • Which fields do I want to spread slurry/FYM on in early spring? These will be the last ones grazed on the first rotation.

If you are wanting to graze fields in February next spring, these fields need to be closed off in early October.

If you don’t start grazing until late March or early April, you can close fields off in late October or early November.

The critical thing regarding the last rotation, regardless of when it takes place, is that it is grazed out properly.

If it is not grazed down to a 4/4.5cm residual it will have an adverse effect on the quality of your spring grass.

The basic decision on most UK farms is that between mid-October and mid-March the grass will only grow once.

When is that grass the most financially beneficial to your business?