Improving Grassland Utilisation

4th May 2018

This spring more than ever is important to grow more grass on farm. However, itís even more important to use this grass correctly.

To have grazing swards produce large quantities of high quality grass we must target grazing at the "three leaf stage". Ryegrasses can only support three living leaves at any one time. When the fourth leaf grows, the first leaf begins to die as can be seen in Figure 1. The first leaf is dying, this represents wasted energy from the plant but the nutrient quality is also decreasing. Target pre-grazing should be between 2.5-3 leaf stage. in centimeters this is approximately 10 cm. If grass is grazed too early you are not giving the plant enough time to recover and will have a slower regrowth.

Time after grazing

Image 1. Grass growth development AHDB.

It is also important to target correct pre-grazing covers. This can be done by measuring grass in a variety of ways from as simple as a welly boot to using a plate meter. For grazing cattle, a simple measure is to have pre-grazing covers at 10cm or 1,500kg DM/ha (available cover) and post-grazing at 4cm.

We will look at the different ways and how to measure grass in another blog post.

To maximise grass production and utilisation it is important to give the sward a chance to recover from grazing. One way of increasing grassland utilisation is to look at a grazing program such as rotational paddock grazing.

Examples of how to divide up a field into paddocks

Image 2. Examples of how to divide up a field into paddocks

Animals should spend a maximum of 3 days per paddock to prevent them from eating the regrowth.

The use of paddocks is one of the best options available to a farmer to increase grass utilisation. This can be as simple as electric wire and pigtail posts to begin with. This gives you the flexibility to learn and refine the system to suit your farm.

When laying out a paddock system t is very important to think about placement of water troughs. If you have 7-8 paddocks on a 3-day rotation , that should give you the flexibility for a 21-24 day rotation, but your plan should be according to your grass growth.

Grazing Strategy Typical Annual Yield (t DM/ha) Utilisation (%)
Set stocking 8.5 50
Rotational 10.2 65
Paddock 10.2 80

Table 1. Effect of grazing system on grass yield and utilisation AHDB

AHDB conducted experiments that shows the positive effect of creating a solid infrastructure will have on both annual grass yield and utilisation. Not only will you grow more grass, be able to increase your stocking rate or decrease your fertiliser rates, but your animalís performance will improve as they will have access to better quality grass.

Setting up paddocks it will give you the ability to manage your grass better, and allow you to identify surpluses early and take these paddocks out for silage.

Some simple rules to improving utilisation-

  • Create a nutrient management plan (see previous blog)
  • Improve soil health
  • Set targets for your grazing platform
  • Graze at the correct time - 2.5-3 leaf stage (10cm)
  • Experiment with paddocking
  • Max. 3 days grazing per paddock
  • Set target rotation dependant on grass growth.
  • If a surplus is identified take out for silage quickly to bring it back into rotation to keep grass quality high.

If you have questions about managing your grass quality or about getting involved in our Soil Improvement Programme, please contact us.

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