Grassland management

With the warmer months – and turnout – around the corner we ask ForFarmers Forage Product Manager Mel Digger for her ultimate guide to managing grassland in 2023 to maximise Milk from Forage.

Gwyn Evans Plate metering - ForFarmers UK

Best practice grassland management requires short, medium and long term focus and an overall attention to detail, says Mel Digger. “The first place to start is reviewing the performance of current leys and identifying which need attention to maximise production.

“Get to know your grass leys well. We advise all farmers to walk their leys regularly to review yield, ground cover and identify any weed issues. Any that are not performing well may need some chemical inputs and soil testing will highlight any nutrient deficiencies.

Measure to manage

You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” she advises. “Reviewing feeding performance of silage ground will highlight any that need improvement. As well as walking paddocks and taking note of quality issues you should also be measuring your grass leys. A simple sward stick is ideal for anyone starting out or who doesn’t want to invest in a plate meter.

“We are currently offering free sward sticks to help our customers know when their grass is ready to graze.” Mel advocates using it weekly and building up a log of grass growing information. “Take a similar route through the field each time you take your measurements. We recommend taking a minimum of 30 readings per field, recording either on a computer or notebook if you prefer, then calculating an average reading.

“As well as helping with grazing decisions keeping these records means you can look back and compare leys through the season and over longer periods too."

Being armed with data means management decisions are easier to make, says Mel. “It will help you identify when paddocks or cutting leys need reseeding. Ideally all fields will be in a rotation for reseeding, but if this isn’t the case, or a farm has got behind with reseeds at least they will know which to prioritise and what issues that ley may have that could be addressed through variety choice.”

Benefits of reseeds

Many of the top performing producers for Milk from Forage are committed to regular reseeding or overseeding, helping them to get the absolute best from their grass. “As well as improving the yield and quality of the grass it reduces the amount of purchased feed. It also enables you to introduce new varieties which will have improved characteristics such as disease resistance and stress tolerance.

With the continuous improvement in varieties reseeding can lead to extra milk production, 33% more yield and 10% more dry matter yield for the next four years,” continues Mel. “Perennial ryegrasses have a better response to nitrogen too, so reseeding will ensure that fertiliser application is being maximised and that weed grasses are not being fed." Other advantages include breaking disease cycles and having the opportunity to deal with any soil compaction problems.

Perennial Ryegrass and weed grass 02
The amount of weed grasses 02

Variety choice

Reviewing varieties on the recommended grass list will indicate typical yield, disease resistance, seasonal growth and persistence. The choice of mix needs to be right for the soil type, the persistence required as well as feeding requirements, says Mel. “Is it a grazing ley or required for silage production?

Choosing an unsuitable mix will impact on the quantity and quality of production,” she warns.

ForFarmers TOPGRASS Dairygen mix is formulated to provide long-term intensive grazing, explains Mel. “It has a higher proportion of diploid perennial ryegrasses to provide a denser sward and the inclusion of Fojtan perennial tall fescue plus for grazing yield, persistency and stress tolerance.

The TOPGRASS cutting leys -Silogen or Extragen - are formulated with the inclusion of ryegrass plus grasses,” she adds. “These are great for yield, persistency, quality and stress tolerance which is becoming increasingy important with our changing climate.”