Autumn grassland management to make the most of homegrown forage

Wednesday 25.08.2021 , news

Making good use of high-quality homegrown forage is central to any livestock system, particularly dairy. But how you manage your grassland in autumn to achieve this is dictated by your system.

Spring block calving

For spring block calving herds, autumn is the time to think about setting up for spring to maximise grass performance during the period of peak demand. How you manage grass during autumn and winter has a substantial impact on spring grass performance, so it’s worth getting your last rotation right before closing up.

Start by reducing grass covers by grazing either heifers or sheep. This helps take low quality, dead organic material out of the ley, preventing problems with yield and quality in the spring. And the lighter footfall of smaller livestock reduces pasture damage.

Closing covers should be based on your anticipated spring demand, so have a good idea of your spring grazing plan. For example, if you’re planning an early turnout at the start of February aim for covers around 2,500kg DM/ha. Based on a 90-day winter with grass growth of 3kg DM/ha/day, aim to close up with an average farm cover of 2,200kg DM/ha. As a rough guide, grass will be about 10cm high.

Your spring grazing plan also informs the order of closing fields, meaning you close off pastures at different stages of growth. This helps create a grass wedge and reflects the increasing plane of demand next spring.

All year round and autumn block calving

Managing your grassland well in autumn offers the potential to extend grazing and boost profitability, while also setting up well for spring. Keeping stock on pasture in autumn delays the need for housing, feed, labour, and slurry disposal, saving an estimated £1-3/head per day. 

Look to start your last grazing rotation in late September or early October and aim to graze paddocks in the order they will be grazed in spring. As the days shorten, grass growth also begins to slow. Take this in account in your rotation plans by either increasing rotation lengths from mid-September or extending grazing areas to increase supply. Also pay close attention to the weather, remembering as it begins to deteriorate you may need to supplement intakes to support milk production.

When grazing is extended into autumn, protecting your infrastructure in vulnerable areas and preventing pasture damage is important. Wherever possible, try to use separate gateways to enter and exit the fields and consider using multiple water troughs to reduce damage at the high traffic areas. Back-fencing paddocks can also help prevent stock grazing the regrowth.

At close, aim for a target residual of around 1,500kg DM/ha to encourage for winter tillering and high-quality regrowth to set up covers for spring. If covers are too high when you finish your final grazing rotation, you may need to take remedial action so there is quality grazing available in spring. For example, sheep can be used to further reduce covers, but they should leave paddocks by the start of December to avoid delaying spring regrowth.

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