“Know your costs and keep your focus”

Char­lie Mor­gan, Direc­tor of Grass­mas­ter Ltd, a grass­land con­sul­tan­cy in the UK, gives advice on how to opti­mise grass­land man­age­ment.

Per­fect grass­land man­age­ment will vary accord­ing to envi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions. Although one sys­tem won’t fit all, what are the broad themes which apply?

Char­lie Mor­gan: For opti­mum grass growth, it’s essen­tial the soil con­tains suf­fi­cient nutri­ents: At least 16-25mg/l­itre of phos­phate on the Olsen scale, and 120-180mg/l­itre of potash. Soil pH should be 6-6.5, and once these build­ing blocks are in place, grow­ers can con­sid­er micronu­tri­ents for greater effi­cien­cies. Nitro­gen should be applied after each graz­ing or silage cut. Good soil struc­ture and organ­ic mat­ter con­tent are also vital, enabling roots to grow, improv­ing the water hold­ing capac­i­ty of the soil, and pre­vent­ing ero­sion. Although all soil dis­tur­bance releas­es nutri­ents, shal­low plough­ing is still the best form of estab­lish­ment, as it gets rid of com­pet­i­tive weeds. If min-till­ing, oth­er veg­e­ta­tion must be sprayed off first, and the future of glyphosate is uncer­tain.

Species choice helps to max­imise grass yields and qual­i­ty through­out the year. What are the best options in dif­fer­ent regions?

In wet­ter regions rye­grass is king, where­as Tim­o­thy, dwarf cocks­foot and fes­cues are suit­ed to dri­er areas. Some new hybrids are bet­ter root­ing, drought tol­er­ant, and win­ter hardy, mak­ing them more suit­able for a chang­ing cli­mate, while legumes and deep­er root­ing herbs are increas­ing­ly impor­tant. Silage leys should be resown every five years, with graz­ing pas­ture last­ing 10+ years, depend­ing on vari­ety choice. If care­ful­ly man­aged, grass­land can last 20-30 years; then the only argu­ment for reseed­ing is to intro­duce new­er grass genet­ics.

What about grass­land man­age­ment?

The key to good grass­land man­age­ment is to under­stand how the plant grows; cut­ting it at the opti­mum stage and leav­ing it with suf­fi­cient leaf to regrow rapid­ly. Rota­tion­al graz­ing or cut­ting can boost grass yields by 20-50%. Using a ris­ing plate meter to mea­sure grass growth, UK farm­ers should turn out cows at 2000-2200kg DM/ha, graz­ing down to 1500-1700kg DM/ha. Any pas­ture that exceeds 2700kg/ha may be shut up for silage, and pro­duc­ers should map grass growth around the farm to design the rota­tion, cut sur­plus grass, or intro­duce buffer feed.

Cows should be allo­cat­ed the exact acreage to sup­ply their demand, and moved to fresh pas­ture every 12-24 hours.

Cows should be allo­cat­ed the exact acreage to sup­ply their demand, and moved to fresh pas­ture every 12-24 hours – so flex­i­ble fenc­ing, water troughs and access roads are essen­tial. In hot­ter, dri­er cli­mates, the prin­ci­ple of rota­tion still stands, although it will be spread over a longer timescale with greater yields due to slow­er grass growth. What­ev­er your sys­tem, the key is to know your own costs and focus on what you do best. In dairy farm­ing, atten­tion to detail and mak­ing lit­tle improve­ments can be the dif­fer­ence between prof­it and loss.