The tools for pasture management
- The main tool is the grazing animal. The animal harvests its own pasture feed, and its grazing maintains pasture plants in the leafy stage.
- Mature stock can be used to graze off pastures that have gone to head, and can be made to clean up pastures that younger animals are reluctant to eat.
- If pasture grows out of control and produces an obvious feed surplus, then make hay or silage with it. This creates a feed store for pinch periods, such as summer droughts or cold winter spells.
- If individual pastures are showing seed heads that stock won’t eat, then top them using a mower or slasher.
- Topping and allowing the cut material to wilt often makes it more palatable to cattle, so they’ll hopefully clean it up. This often applies to some weeds too.
- Avoid topping chicory pastures - this plant has hollow stems and rainwater collects inside, rotting the plant base.
- Remember - the animal eating its own feed is the cheapest tool in pasture management.
- This is the basic controlled grazing system - areas of a paddock are grazed in rotation using temporary electrified fencing.
- Shift the electric fence regularly to allow the stock their daily ration, to meet their nutritional needs.
- A back fence boosts pasture recovery - but water must be available to stock at all times.
- By rotational grazing, a “ feed wedge” is built up ahead of the stock, and it’s easy to see which paddocks are growing the most feed and can be grazed next.
- It’s also easy to see how the pastures are growing, so decisions on the rotation length become easier.
- Remember - shuffle grazing can be more effective, when a quicker-growing, more productive paddock can be grazed more often than those that are less productive.
- The rotation length is the number of days it takes before the stock will be back in the paddock they have just grazed.
- In spring, newly-calved dairy cows will be on a 20-day rotation or round, as feed is plentiful and growing fast (up to 80kg DM/ha/day).
- In winter, when dairy cows are dry and on a lower feeding level, and grass growth is slow (around 15kgDM/ha/day), they will be on a 100-day round.
- If pastures are not growing satisfactorily (for example, when it doesn’t rain for a while), then slow up the rotation to give the pastures ahead of the stock enough regrowth time before they are grazed.
- During this waiting time, the stock cannot wait and be starved. Use some supplement feed, such as surpluses made into hay and silage during spring or autumn flush periods.
- This is where animals are kept in a paddock and left there until they have grazed the paddock to a satisfactory level.
- Most folk on lifestyle blocks will set-stock their pastures, as it saves the daily workload of moving electric fences.
- To the amazement of many farmers, research has shown there is very little difference in annual DM yields, between rotational grazing and set stocking, if you get things right. Please note those last few words!
- With rotational grazing, it’s easier to see what’s going on behind and in front of the electric fence.
- The trick for successful set stocking is to match the right number of animals in the paddock with the number of days you want to leave them there - and to do this for every paddock (and they usually vary in size).
- Of course, a large paddock can be divided into smaller chunks for set stocking using electric fences.
How many livestock to graze?
This is the key question!
- If you have too many animals for your block, you’ll be constantly short of feed, and stock will not perform to their potential.
- In addition, you will need supplements in quantity, which you’ll probably have to purchase; and even in spring, you won’t have any surplus pasture growth to conserve as hay or silage.
- If you have too few animals, your pastures will always be out of control. You will end up with too much hay and silage that you’ll never use, and won’t profit by selling it.
- Work out an overall stocking rate for your farm, based on what you can winter - the winter carrying capacity.
- This will avoid trouble with the law (for not providing adequate feed and running stock in poor condition). Check what livestock numbers any neighbouring farmers in the area are carrying, or seek advice from a consultant.