Boost profits by getting serious about rotational grazing

Published 28 March 18

Noel _gowan _200x 133Increasing the use of grass on farm could result in significant increases in profit, according to expert Dr Noel Gowen.

Speaking at one of our Grow More – Graze More – Earn More events, Noel explained the mindset needed to improve grass management.

“There are two key areas farmers need to focus on, maximising grazing season length and maximising grass intake when cows are at grass.

“The first rule simply means getting stock out as early as possible in the spring, and leaving them out for as long as possible at the back end of the year. The second rule is about ensuring they are eating as much high quality grass during that grazing time, which is usually somewhere in the region of 16-17kg of dry matter a day.”

Research has shown just how beneficial focusing on improving the uptake of grass on farm can be. A 100 hectare farm which increases grass utilisation on farm by just 1 tonne per hectare stands to gain an extra £25,000 per annum.

Rotational grazing is a key component of increasing grass utilisation as is measuring grass growth in paddocks and calculating how much dry matter they are producing. Paddocks with low grass growth should be reviewed and steps taken to try and increase grass production, whether through improvements to soil health, pH or reseeding.

Noel, who is Head of Livestock Services and Consultancy at Grasstec in Ireland, says: “pH is absolutely key to pasture growth. In my opinion if you aren’t serious about your pH levels, you aren’t serious about growing more grass. Nutrient levels are important but we all know that if the pH isn’t right adding extra nutrients is practically pointless.”

One major limitation on farms looking to increase grass intake is the lower grass growth levels in spring and autumn, while livestock numbers often remain the same. However with improved grass management this shortfall can be reduced, keeping grass in the diet for longer and reducing the need for more expensive feeds.  

“In Ireland the top 20 dairy farms have increased their dry matter from grazed grass by nearly a third in just five years. It’s an impressive achievement and it’s due to their attention to their detail.”

For Noel the required attention to detail is achieved through following four grassland management rules:

Graze to low residual (grazing grass to 3.5 to 4.5cm in length)

Protect regrowth – once grazed to the desired length move off the cows within 2-3 hours.

Adjust Rotation length according to growth – high growth requires a shorter rotation and vice versa

Ideal Pre-grazing cover – graze paddocks when cover is between 2700-3000kgDM/ha

Noel explains: “Once we understand how the grass plant grows we know how best to manage it. The rules for grazing are all linked. Keeping the right rotation length helps to control the pre-grazing cover which in turn helps to ensure the sward is not too strong for grazing and thus ensuring a low residual and high quality in the next rotation.

“Grass measurement is fundamental to the system but what you do with the information is just as important. Using a grassland software program like Agrinet helps in this regard, as they can help farmers calculate their grass demand and their paddock performance and use that information to better utilise grass and lower their use of concentrate.”

Click on the link for further information on grassland efficiency and feeding+