CLOSE SWARD WATCH EARLY – EAST ANSWER
By Jonathan Riley
CLOSER monitoring of early grass growth is the key to maximising grazing in the eastern counties.
This is the view of Notts-based dairy and arable producer Tony Tapper, who runs 250 autumn calving cows on 121ha (300 acres) of pasture near Kneesall.
"Extended grazing has a different meaning here because our average rainfall is about 20in – most of which falls in winter," says Mr Tapper. "Our difficulty is extending the grazing period from turnout into the summer.
"Our heavy soil dries and cracks as soon as the sun penetrates through the sward halting grass growth. Our aim, therefore, is to maintain a slightly longer, but dense sward to provide ground cover and retain moisture," he says.
"However, spring grass growth can be high and there is a danger that in places the sward gets too long before we can turn the herd out onto the heavy soil. At turnout cows then look for the shortest grass and graze it repeatedly so that swards can get patchy," he says.
This year Mr Tapper is aiming to tighten grazing management by matching grass yields and cow intakes more closely.
"To do this we will have to monitor grass growth more frequently and improve our estimates of tonnes dry matter a hectare, possibly by buying a rising plate meter," explains Mr Tapper.
Once he is able to estimate the amount of available grass accurately, Mr Tapper plans to adopt a more flexible strategy to turnout, by matching stocking rate with grass growth.
He is considering splitting the herd into two groups and allowing one group out earlier than the average turnout time – usually during the first week of April. This will minimise soil damage and keep on top of the grass.
"We may also restrict grazing to a few hours a day at turnout so that the whole process is more gradual with the total herd intake geared closely to the pattern of grass growth," he says.
As the season progresses Mr Tapper may also use some form of temporary fencing to adjust the grazing area available.
"Because we have access to cheap grain and feeds such as vegetable waste, stocking rate will also be linked to the use of a buffer feed," says Mr Tapper.
"This will have to be highly palatable as we have found in the past cows turned out during the day will ignore the buffer and wait for the grass the next morning."
Fertiliser is spread according to T-sums with the first application made between T190 and T200 so that ground has received 250kg/ha (200 units/acre) of nitrogen by the end of May.
"In some years we do get some rain during the summer and then an additional 100 units acre can be spread to push the grazing season into the autumn."n
Poor summer rainfall gives extended grazing a different meaning for east midlands producer Tony Tapper.
• Aim for earlier turnout.
• Monitor grass growth.
• Match stocking rate to grass availability.