Farmer Focus: Managing pasture to dry off herd

The two biggest factors that come into play in November are farm cover and weather.

Managing average farm cover around the deluges is a delicate dance that requires planning and regular grass measuring.

For the week starting 9 November, we have almost 90% of the milking platform closed, with no damage done, despite the heavy spells of rain over the past 10 days.

See also: Advice on establishing and growing clover in grass leys

The herd is out by day and on silage at night, with about 16 milkings left in the year before drying off.

Current farm cover is 675kg/ha DM and our target is to be at 650kg on 1 December.

The three fields we have left to close are held until last in November for good reason; one is on an extreme hill with great shelter and is a paddock to visit if the weather turns wet, while the others have high clover content.

Clover doesn’t tend to hold cover well over the winter, so there is little point in closing these paddocks early. 

Research has shown that average pasture growth rates over the winter are lower on grass clover swards, and if clover content is very high (up to 50%), they can lose cover in the winter, so we don’t intend to graze these fields until March.

Clover starts growing at soil temperatures close to 9C, in comparison to perennial rye grass, which can become active from 5C in spring. This is another reason to leave those grass clover fields for grazing later in the first rotation next year.

The other balancing act with grass-clover swards is minimising poaching, as this can result in a loss of stolons. Stolons are how clover grows and spreads over the ground, so protecting these is vitally important.

To date, we have clover well established on nearly 10% of swards on the farm.

This year, we oversowed a further 13% with white clover in April. It establishes much better with a full reseed, but that’s a slow process to get to our target of 70% grass-clover swards. As always in farming, big changes take time.