By Bess Jowsey, Pasture to Profit farm consultant
So far, this winter has been relatively warm and wet. Apart from areas that have become water-logged, you could say it’s been a ‘growy’ season. Many of my clients will already have started off the 2020 grazing season. The ability to do this is a direct result of your good management from last autumn, and having the grazing infrastructure to get stock around the farm while protecting the soil from heavy damage.
Many farmers challenge themselves to turnout early because they understand the benefits of early grazing. Winter-stored pasture is not only high in energy and protein but also reasonably high in dry matter (by grass standards). That makes it not only a very cheap forage but a highly productive one for livestock. So next time you arrange a silage sample from your clamp, I strongly urge you to take a sward sample from a ryegrass paddock that has a reasonable amount of cover… and prove its value to yourself!
Early grazing stimulates the grass to regrow therefore boosting growth rates before the grass really starts to take off. Early grazing also helps you keep on top of the grass as is goes from dormancy into the spring flush, something we know happens very quickly and often catches many of us out.
The best piece of advice I can give you is to walk across your fields now. You may be surprised that some areas of your farm could be grazed a lot earlier than you think, even in the wet conditions. Take note of parts that have some grass, have reasonable access off a road or track and that are firmer underfoot. These would be areas to push the boundaries and graze early after a couple of fine days.
Initially, grass may form only part of the diet, often being supplemented by conserved forage or concentrates. Offering your stock a fresh area of grass when they have an appetite will encourage them to graze properly and achieve consistent residuals. Soil damage is significantly reduced by removing stock from the area as soon as the grass is grazed, and counter-intuitively also by putting lots of stock onto a confined area for a short period of time (on/off grazing).
To increase your chances of a successful early turnout get in touch with your local Pasture to Profit consultant.