Time to focus on surpluses for Grass Watch farmers

After a long winter, spring has finally arrived and grass covers are looking up on all seven of Farmers Weekly’s Grass Watch farms.

Thanks to the warmer weather grass growth rates have turned a corner and now the focus has changed.

Rather than feeding to support grass growth deficits our Grass Watch farmers are having to remove paddocks from the rotation and close them up for silage to help manage surpluses.

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: How our Grass Watch farmers are coping with low growth

Richard Fryer

Farm facts

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

Within the space of two weeks we have gone from on/off grazing with cows housed at night to removing surplus paddocks from the wedge for silage.

Now that the in-calf heifers have returned from the rearer, we have a growth demand of 80kg DM/ha/day.

We have to act quickly when removing these paddocks and be prepared to react equally quickly, slowing the grazing round down when growth slows.

We took 32ha of first-cut silage from our off-lying ground on 6 May. Although yield was on the low side, the quality looked good – very sticky and dry. With 5,000 gallons of slurry and 65kg of nitrogen/ha having been applied and washed in by recent rainfall, grass is motoring – long may it continue!

Ben Richards

Farm facts

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

Magic day finally arrived on 28 of April – a whole five weeks later than normal.

This has cost me a lot of money in extra feed and lost production at a time when I could have done with an easier spring.

The cows are right into it now, producing well (once a day milked) and on 100% pasture.

I now have a lot of surplus to deal with and more than half of the farm is shut for silage. This will be cut in stages to allow me to control the aftermaths more easily. Now is the time to make or break pasture quality for the rest of the season.

Get it wrong and pre-grazing will be too high, which leads to either lost production and/or high residuals and more cutting.

We have just done the first week of breeding and have served 40%, with no vet intervention. We AI for three weeks and then put the bulls in for an additional four.

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

Following a reasonably cool and wet April, May has been just the opposite.

Although we have had a combination of the Helm wind (locals will understand) and only 6mm of rain by the middle of the month, unbelievably it looks as if I’m going to be the first Cumbrian farmer paying for rain.

Growth rates have responded well to the warmth and have at last lifted above demand.

We are just about starting to get a picture of where the first surpluses will be and when we will be starting to make some silage, albeit later than last year.

Production is comparable to last year, although with lower supplementation – it has now been gradually pulled back to 2kg, where we aim to hold it until at least halfway (six weeks) through breeding, which we started on 20 May.

The 2016-born heifer calves are now out grazing, with about 50% having reached 80kg and weaned off milk and the 2015 R2s are now several weeks into their breeding season – rotationally grazing some of the less accessible land we are unable to either silage or graze with milking cows.

Mike Miller

Farm facts

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

At last we can start looking at some normal spring growth, albeit nearly a month behind the norm.

The ewes and lambs are being mobbed up into bigger groups, starting on rotation along with the cows and calves.

The main crop of swedes for winter ewe grazing has been drilled and plants were showing within a week. The moist, warm conditions have been a perfect start for them.

We have also sown 5ha of Tonic plantain and white clover for late summer lamb finishing. This is a first for us and my main concern is how it will cope with the wet winter on clay –only time will tell.  

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 grass level for the ewes and lambs on the new seeds has dropped below 1,200kg/ha. I was concerned until I went to my grass group meeting.

There I was assured these low levels are not a real problem, as the grass is growing and the small shoots are of very high quality and growth rates will not drop.

The tight grazing has also had the added bonus of taking out any weeds in the new ley.

Four weeks later than last year the 450kg (14-month-old) Stabilizer steers have gone into their first 3ha paddock of nine, with grass levels at 2200kg/DM.

The grass, due to the two inches of rain and warm nights, is growing more than 100kg DM/ha/day.

The aim is a target of 40% extra quality grass and I eagerly await the monthly weigh-in to see increased growth rates.

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

In the four weeks since my previous article we have seen a good increase in grass growth, especially in the past two weeks, with some lays doing 60kg DM/ha plus.

It has been noticeable which paddocks had a bad time over the wet winter, with growth rates still down – something we will have to keep in mind for the future.

Rotations are well under way, with paddocks now being taken out for silage.

This is increasing the stocking rates, taking demand to about 50kg DM/ha. Reseeding has been undertaken on the worst-performing fields; this includes a finishing crop of Italian/brassica for finishing lambs in August.

Sam Chesney

Farm facts

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

We have had excellent growing conditions this month and are now nearing 100kg/ha, with metabolic energy at 20.7, crude protein 17.3 and sugars 18.8.

Grass cover over all is about 3,000kg DM/ha, although we have had to graze out of rotation due to handling of stock.

Silage will be cut as soon as possible, but due to the poor spring, nitrogen uptake has been slow.

Because of a herd TB test, cows have only been grouped in the past couple of days, but the grazing platform will be in good shape by the end of May and at present we are grazing at 6.64lu/ha.

The second batch of 27% nitrogen was applied last week at 123kg/ha.

Reseeding has taken place with hybrid grass, red clover and white clover with a spot of wheat to guard young grass seed.

I’m looking forward to the heatwave we have been told – for the third year running – is coming to us. I doubt it.

Independent grassland specialist, Gareth Davies

What a difference a couple of weeks make. Two weeks ago we were wondering where the grass was going to come from, now we are wondering how we are going to cope with all the surplus grass.

From a management perspective it is much more difficult to manage surpluses than deficits. Deficits are easy because there is very little to manage, whereas surpluses require a great deal of management.

This is where the basic information comes into play. You need to know exactly what your demand and growth are, and it is very good to have an idea of what your expected growth is going to be.

If you are new to grass measuring, I am sure there will be someone nearby who has historical grass growth data you can use just as a guide.

Once you have this information and can see growth outstripping demand, you need to close fields up for silage. Some fields may be closed for long-term pit silage, others may be left to grow for a few weeks and taken as a lighter cut of bale silage.

Either way, if you are taking silage from a grazing platform, it is important to try to stagger the cutting. This enables your regrowth to be staggered, which then makes it easier to manage when it is back in the grazing rotation. If it is all cut at once it means you have the whole area at the same stage of regrowth and it becomes difficult to manage, as it flattens out your grazing wedge.

If you don’t want to cut silage on the grazing platform, your other alternative is to increase the stocking rate so the demand matches the growth.

Whatever you do, the focus should always be on quality.