Prepare pastures for spring turnout now

It’s only September, but spring is here. Preparing swards for next year’s grazing season is essential to ensure adequate covers at turnout.

All efforts should be aimed at producing for the spring, and now it is more important than ever to be measuring grass growth, says independent grazing consultant Tom Philips.

“Autumn closing dates for grazing have a major influence on spring turnout, and farmers should be building up covers by slowing current grazing rotations,” he says.

Grass growth across the UK is currently good, ranging between 60 and 70kg/ha DM a day, but there is a need to build average covers to target 2600-2700kg/ha DM by the first week of October, advises Mr Philips.

“By the end of the first week of October most should be planning to start the last grazing rotation, although this depends on how wet the farm is and how much cover individuals are able to build up,” he says.

West Yorkshire dairy farmer Tom Rawson, running a spring and autumn calving herd, says his last round of grazing will begin on 20 September and last 60 days.

“The paddocks closest to home are grazed at the end of September and the entire rotation will finish on 20 November. This ensures a wedge of grass of all different covers is left, with the paddock closest to home ready for turnout in late January.”

Mr Rawson uses his spring calvers to graze covers down to 1450kg/ha DM. “It’s important to nail down the grass hard, as cleaning up the pastures means growth and quality will be better next year. I aim to turnout to covers of 2600-2700kg/ha DM,” he says.

Mr Philips agrees with the principles of Mr Rawson’s rotation and says the last rotation needs to last between 30 to 60 days.

“Producers should aim to go into winter with a wedge of feed, and every field should be really hard grazed on the last rotation down to covers of 1500kg/ha DM. This allows the pasture to go into spring with the maximum number of new tillers,” says Mr Philips.

He also advises those who are not getting the growth to use some nitrogen, but warns this must be done in compliance with NVZ regulations. “Those wanting to apply nitrogen must do so by the 15 September to comply with NVZ regulations and it will be important for some farmers to do this,” he says.

But at the same time as grazing hard, it’s also important to prevent sward damage and compaction, which can be caused by poaching.

“In the north it has been wet and its important swards aren’t damaged. When poaching is a problem, put cows on for two hours at a time and then pull them off,” adds Mr Philips.

Mr Rawson says extensive use of tracks has reduced the risk of poaching on his farm and are integral to his rotational grazing system.

Measuring grass weekly is crucial in determining grass growth and closing dates for grazing. “When you stop grazing, you want an average cover across the farm of 2000kg/ha DM and this needs to build up to 2600kg/dm/ha ready for turnout. You don’t want the farm completely bare of grass on the day grazing stops,” says Mr Philips.