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Are you managing your grazing effectively?

Seasonal challenge Seasonal challenge30-6-2020

Grazed grass when managed well will reduce input costs, especially bought in feed and give excellent returns in both production and profit.

Measuring pasture cover provides useful information for feed budgeting and rotation planning to optimise grazing management. Expensive equipment is not required to asses grass growth, walking the paddocks and checking growth will help assess grass stocks better than just looking over the gate.

Good management and utilisation will reduce the cost of the grass if the below criteria are followed:

Increased utilisation – manage stocking rates to avoid seed heads and to maximise harvesting. Utilisation of grass is often below 50% but can be up to 80% with good management.

Optimise fertiliser use – newer varieties of grass respond better to fertiliser.

Reseed –  when less than 50% of sward is sown species but overseed sooner to maintain yield and quality.

Grass growth – optimum daily grass growth is reached when total growth is 2,000 – 2,500 kg DM/ha, which is around a height of 8 – 12 cm.

Grass growth

Afbeelding: Grass leaf life cycle

When grass growth is at its highest a new leaf is produced every four to five days.

The entire canopy can be replaced within 3 – 4 weeks.

Ideal grazing takes place at the 3rd leaf stage. Grazing too low (below the 2nd leaf stage) can reduce growth by up to 85%.

In warmer weather when growth is lower, ensuring that the grass is not grazed too low will help recovery quicker when conditions allow.

Feed planning - the 4 stages

Planning the feeding programme will maximise utilisation.

  1. Calculate livestock feeding requirements
  2. Assess grass supply, measure pasture cover and adjust for anticipated growth
  3. Prepare a feed budget and determine field / paddock set up
  4. ForFarmers Milk Map© can support you with this programme
grass supply and demand curve

Creating a feed plan by measuring grass growth can produce a feed wedge to assess when there will be surplus grass in the grazing rotation or a shortfall, to allow for managing stocks.

Pasture covers - the feed wedge

All fields should ideally be at different stages of grass growth, so grazing of a field is at the target sward height and stock benefit from high quality grazing to optimise performance and sward utilisation. Regular measuring of pastures and plotting on a graph can improve grazing management by knowing where your feed wedge is.

The target pre grazing cover is marked on the left  (fields with most grass) and post grazing on the right (fields with least grass). A line between the 2 is the demand line – ideally all fields should sit on the line.

Feed wedge showing ideal amount of grass in each field in grazing rotation
Feed wedge showing ideal amount of grass in each field in grazing rotation. Source: AHDB

If grass growth is lower than expected, especially in drier conditions, increasing the speed of the rotation will cause grass to run out. Supplementing with conserved forage or concentrates will help bridge the gap but at an extra cost.

If grass growth is higher than expected it may when conditions allow,be possible to jump a field and shut it up for silage.


Feed wedge showing potential shortfall
Feed wedge showing potential shortfall. Source: AHDB

For more information

For more details about managing your grazing effectively, reseeding or planning a feed programme please contact your local Account Manager or contact our specialist forage team here.