Beef turnout advice

Getting beef cattle turned out to grass as soon as possible will reduce feed costs, but ForFarmers Bruce Forshaw and Ben Trott advise producers to plan turnout carefully.

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How soon a beef producer can turn cattle out to grass will largely be dependent on the farm’s location and topography, not to mention the vagaries of the weather. However, by following some simple steps it is possible to make the best of what you’ve got.

Avoid poaching

Early turnout is generally preferred as an early light bite across the grazing can improve quality and yield later. However don’t over graze the ley - especially the first time around - and be prepared to delay if the ground remains wet.

Product Manager Bruce Forshaw explains: “Wet weather can cause a variety of physical, biological and chemical changes within the soil – all of which can affect soil structure. Although many of these changes will start to reverse once the soil begins to dry out, it is important to assess soil structure on any fields before grazing or travelling with machinery.”

Similarly it’s recommended that the cattle (weight and size) and stocking density are matched to the soil conditions of the fields. The heavier the soil is the lighter the stock should be. Another tip is to turn out in small batches to limit the herd’s behaviour and prevent the ground from becoming poached.

Understanding quality and quantity

Growing and utilising more, high quality grazed grass will reduce the need for purchased feed which will have a big impact on a farm’s bottom line, says UK Organic & Grazing Commercial Manager Ben Trott. “It is important to understand the quality of your grassland and the potential of your management system to utilise forage.

“Grass should be grazed at the three-leaf stage. If grazed too early, it will reduce the grass’s regrowth and if too late, it will be high in fibre and will contain less energy. A higher dry matter intake can be achieved by utilising multispecies swards incorporating species such as clover and herbs and more can be achieved from leys in this way.”

Growing cattle need at least 3% of their bodyweight in dry matter per day, which can be used to help calculate the stocking rate, he advises. “A 400kg animal needs about 12kg DM/day and in March grass may grow between 15-30kg DM/ha/day.”

“Plan ahead and monitor your grass availability during the season. That way you can predict when you will need any additional forage, plan overseeding, or make plans for when you have more than you need.”

Beef grazing legs

Measure to manage

Assessing pasture cover will help with decisions on when to graze grass and for how long as well as any overseeding required. “Some farms choose to invest in a plate meter, but a simple sward stick can also be a great tool to assess covers by measuring the density of the sward,” explains Ben.

Advice for measuring includes taking a minimum of 30 readings per field, recording this data and then calculating an average for each field. “The ideal sward height pregrazing for beef cattle early in the season is 8-12cm, and 5-6cm post-grazing. These are targets for rotational grazing. Measuring your swards can help you plan when and how many animals to turn out.”

Consider rotational grazing

Rotational grazing ensures that the grass continues to grow and recover as quickly as possible and helps achieve the best nutritional quality. “As cattle grow their demand on fresh grass will increase which may mean they need to be moved through the rotation quicker,” explains Ben.

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Practical considerations

Before turning out take time to walk the paddocks, checking your infrastructure including fencing and gates. “Also check you have enough water troughs and that they are in good working condition,” advises Bruce. “Providing enough water is an essential nutritional requirement, and cattle shouldn’t have to walk too far to access water.”

Having a plan for worm and fly control is important too to ensure effectiveness, concludes Ben. “The spring turnout is a busy time but investing some time in planning and the detail of all aspects can pay dividends in the health and performance of your stock.”

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