Grazing platforms can recover from waterlogging in January

For dairy herds planning a February turnout, a walk across the grazing platform this week may require waders after this winter’s prolonged heavy rainfall.

But it will provide a starting point for the new grazing season – and allay fears for those concerned about spring turnout.

See also: 8 ways to improve spring grass management

Ireland-based grazing consultant Andre van Barneveld thinks current conditions are extreme, yet by the end of January they may be no different to other years.

Problems have arisen only where herds were housed early, leaving long grass covers behind: with a long, wet winter, those covers are now decomposing.

“Waterlogging means there is no air getting to roots and this is starving grass plants,” he explains.

Early assessment

However, with a forecast for 10 days of dry, frosty weather, grazing platforms could be in a good position by the second half of January. This is why it is useful to have a starting point by walking the platform now.

“Then you can see what the change is over the course of the next two weeks. That’s when you can start to plan your first rotation and make concrete decisions on managing turnout,” he says.

“Make a plan, do the figures and know where your feed is coming from, then you won’t need to stress – that comes from the unknown. I’m not too worried if farms have wet soils. A lot can change between now and February.”

Long covers

A platform walk will identify those paddocks providing unsuitable feed for milking cows at turnout, he says.

Long grass covers carried through winter should, instead, be “nipped off” using dry cows in spring-calving herds, or yearling heifers in autumn-calving herds.

“This will grow decent material for your first rotation, as well as save a bit of silage, and you can fill a void at the end of first rotation with that saved silage,” he adds.

Andre advises grazing managers who are concerned about the effects of a wet winter on their spring grazing to keep communication lines open. “Go to discussion groups and surround yourself with positive people,” he says.

Mental health

Andre believes farmers’ mental health can become overloaded with stress when having to handle more than one issue on farm – including public perception of the farm’s impact on the environment – and talking to like-minded people helps to reduce anxiety levels.

Whatever happens, he says, grazing managers should not turn to fertiliser to solve problems, pointing out that waterlogged, cold soils have very low bacterial activity.

This means purchased fertiliser would not return an economic response.