Wet weather delays harvest on Grass Watch farms

The wet weather is making both silaging and grazing difficult on farms, although growth rates are holding up fairly well on Farmers Weekly Grass Watch farms.

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.

Gareth Davies, an independent grassland adviser, also gives his grassland tips for next month.

Richard Fryer

Farm facts

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

We don’t expect to be “on-off” grazing in early July, but very heavy rainfall meant it became essential to avoid significant pasture damage.

The need to have a flexible approach to grassland management is so important.

Growth rates have been hit by this weather, but as we are now drying cows off, our demand is also reducing.

Our main focus with the dry cows is to avoid them gaining too much weight – allocation of grass is key to this.

They are very useful at cleaning out paddocks to ensure we have high-quality grass well into the autumn.

We have 5ha shut up to grow into standing hay. This is strip-grazed by the close to calve group from mid-August, with the majority of the herd calving outside.

See also: Advice on controlling surpluses in your grazing round

Ben Richards

Farm facts

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

A good amount of rain and high soil temperatures have maintained growth very well.

I am always aware of growth dropping off as we go further into summer and have started to build covers over the whole platform to give me more feed on farm should it go dry.

This is possible post flowering without losing quality.

The whole farm is now in the round and I have slaughtered a number of cows, which has lowered demand and increased average farm covers.

The milking area has received no nitrogen since May, although I might buy P and K in the autumn, but only if soil indices are falling.

My summer staff starts next week – three primary school helpers.

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

After a frantic period of trying every trick in the book to provide quality grazing, both farms are now back under control and with the added bonus of growing a strong surplus.

This is no bad thing, looking at next winter’s silage stocks.

During the second half of June we received some reasonable rain, which has nicely continued into July.

So far it has not been a vintage year for grass or milk production, but the midsummer period of 2016 looks set to be reasonably productive, with growth rates almost identical on both farms at about 95kg/ha/day.

With the prospect of a strengthening “B” price towards the end of the season, we are feeding slightly more supplement than planned, allowing us to conserve more grass while also looking after production.

Following seven weeks of AI, we are alternating two teams of Hereford bulls that will hopefully catch most of the few remaining open cows.

Taking a small area of silage from the milking platform at the midpoint of the month will allow an increase in the grazing area towards the end of the month, when growth rates will be reducing.      

Mike Miller

Farm facts

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

We have actually received very little rain of late – last month it was about 40mm – and with a hot spell as I write, growth rates will start slowing up.  

Early July grass growth figures have still showed a strong 60kg DM/day, but with some newer leys exceeding this, maintaining the quality is now our biggest challenge.

More silage and hay have been made to keep on top of the oversupply and some seed head topping has been done.

Most of the lambs are now weaned and batched into weight groups. The over-30kg lambs have moved to the leafy plantain/clover cover in the hope of maintaining good growth rates. The lighter lambs have gone onto silage aftermaths.

Weaned ewes and the suckler cows are on a rotation, tidying paddocks up.

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

Growing grass seems to be easy, but conserving it seems to be a nightmare.

We shut fields up for first-cut silage four weeks late and we had no suitable weather when the crop was ready for silaging.

However, the sun returned and we made some excellent haylage instead of silage with half the crop.

The remaining grass was cut for hay and after four blistering days we had some lovely hay.

We have some quality silage left to finish the store cattle from last year, but will have a shortfall if we can’t get a quality cut in mid-August, so the pressure is on.

The mixed clover sward is still growing above 80kg DM/day and last year the high-clover-content sward in our silage gave us crude proteins well above 15%, so we will try to repeat that.

The fattening cattle – 18-month-old home-bred Stabiliser steers that are stocked at 14 heads a hectare on rotational grazing – have shown a huge range of growth rates, from 0.5kg/day to 1.7kg/day, so an investigation is needed.

Sam Chesney

Farm facts

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

It is mid-July and we have water everywhere. The second cut of silage is still under way, although it is reasonable. However, the red clover needs cutting, as flowers and buds are out.

Grazing conditions are good, with paddock covers averaging 2,800kg DM/ha, although grass recovery is slightly short at 17 days.

Conditions, although miserable, have allowed paddocks to be baled and farmyard manure has been spread lightly on some areas that have not been yielding to expected levels.

The plan for the coming days is to get the red clover baled, apply slurry for the third cut and give the grazing pastures a blanket 125kg/ha 27% nitrogen dressing. All that will take is a little sun.

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

Neil runs 2,100 Lleyn ewes and 700 ewe lambs on Dinas Island, North Pembrokeshire. The farm is 223ha and sits at 200m above sea level

Grass growth has kept at a good pace this month, which is not always the case for July.

With shallow soils, the farm is prone to burning off. However, with a fair bit of rain it has kept the grass moving.

The weaned lambs were weighed and split into heavy, medium and light groups, with the heavy group of 800 lambs put in to the first section of brassica crop.

They seem to have settled in nicely. The other groups of lambs are rotating on aftermaths and Italian ryegrass leys. Ewes have also been condition scored and the thin group are running through the better grass, with the fats tidying up behind.

Gareth Davies

Gareth is an independent grassland adviser

August is a key month for grassland management – it is when a lot of the planning is done.

Historically, grass growth drops slightly in August, before a short growth spurt in September.

However, at this time of year the focus isn’t just on the next couple of weeks. If you want to extend the grazing season into the autumn you need to be planning it now.

Most people will have taken the majority of their silage, so this enables them to increase their grazing area and reduce overall stocking rate, which slows down the rotation.

This allows you to start building the amount of grass on the farm – ideally you are targeting peak grass covers for the end of September which will allow you to graze well into the autumn.

However, you are not only looking at this autumn, but also at next spring.

If you want a decent cover of grass in February or March for early turnout of ewes or cows, fields will need to be grazed in early to mid-October, so they will need to be grazed in early to mid-September.

To do this they will need to be grazed at an appropriate time in August.

It is a good idea to target your silage fields for early grazing in the spring, because this will not affect your silage yield, but will help reduce costs.