Pasture to Profit consultant, Bess Jowsey, explains how to make the best use of grazed grass after the dry summer.
Grazing in 2021 has been a story of massive variation. From the slow start to spring growth to the late but extremely rapid spring flush, followed by a period of surviving rain shower after rain shower. This year has been challenging so far.
Awareness is increasing among farmers on the importance of grazed grass as part of a resilient and profitable livestock farming system. Therefore there’s increased momentum in improving grass management skills.
Those who understand mid-season pasture management well will have managed through the dry spells so far by altering the supply of concentrates to deal with short-term deficits. This allows you to maximise dietary quality while keeping feed costs low with little interference in grazing behaviours.
Reduce silage use
Many farmers will have been forced to introduce silage as a buffer while grass availability has dwindled. But silage isn’t as high in quality and protein as well-managed grazed grass.
Grass silage is also around double the cost of grazed grass and often needs to be balanced with other high-cost feeds. So, by introducing a silage buffer, not only will the quality of the overall diet be reduced, it will come at a higher cost. Not to mention all the extra hassle in having to feed it out.
While feeding silage can’t always be avoided, it can be considerably minimised by measuring and monitoring your grass growth. This way you can act early to match the slowing leaf emergence rate with the grazing round length, reducing the negative impacts of a looming pasture deficit.
Maximise growth potential after a dry period
The dry summer conditions mean that seed heads are more prolific and persistent in grazing and silage swards. This is a response to plant stress. As a result, grass quality decreases later into the season and can only be rectified once soil moisture (and therefore nutrient) is no longer limited.
Using dirty water immediately after grazing will give the plants some respite and can be useful. This small amount of moisture and nutrient encourages plants out of the reproductive phase towards growing leaf for subsequent rotations. However, you will still be far from solving an overall soil moisture deficit.
Many will have reduced or stopped applications of artificial nitrogen altogether. These applications rely on soil moisture to dissolve the nutrient and allow plant uptake.
If you’ve reduced or skipped applications, don’t try and catch up once rain does come – this opportunity has gone. Instead, be ready to continue with a sensible application once you are sure rain is imminent. This will maximise grass growth potential once soil moisture has recovered.
Manage stock grazing behaviour
Something to be mindful of once moisture returns, especially on farms that have faced a considerable dry spell, is that the composition of grass changes once the rain arrives.
Plants can become less palatable as they resume the uptake of nutrients and grass dry matter percentage can vary. As a result, you may see stock grazing behaviour becoming more unsettled and fussier. This will usually only last a few days as they get used to this change in their diet.
The disruption this causes can be frustrating. If the stock is unhappy, offer them a small amount of something like high-quality haylage to help settle them.
Trying to transition them from the dry summer grass onto the lush leafy swards will have a similar effect. For example, offer lush silage aftermath during the day and grass from the dry spell overnight. This is less of a change than going onto a silage aftermath day and night.
If you’d like to understand what you could do to improve your grazing management get in touch with me for a no-obligation chat. Call me on 07717732324 or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.