By Poppy Frater, sheep and grassland specialist, SAC Consulting

Planning for grass quality in 2020

With good growing conditions but wet ground, there is a fair chance we will have a lot of grass this spring but, on wet ground, the struggle will be utilising it and maintaining quality.

This unfortunate mix may mean that the grass is well ahead before turnout – great in the short term but, if not caught up with quickly, the grass quality for the rest of the year may be compromised.

A lot of grass means stock can be picky; the seed heads gain foothold, dead grass builds and clover is outcompeted. This is where maintaining grass in a 6-8cm sweetspot has the greatest influence. The difference between those that manage it well and those that don’t will equate to more than 0.5kg liveweight gain per day in yearling cattle, or more than 30g/day in lambs, in late summer.

Those rotational grazing have the most control – they operate a quick rotation (15-21 days) to keep up with the fast grass growth. With stock numbers tailored to field size, the grazing pressure helps achieve 4-5cm post-grazing heights. Priority is on the growing stock however, graze too low and their growth will suffer. A mower can be a great back up strategy to maintain animal performance and pasture quality when grass growth is a challenge to keep up with. Another strategy may be to use dry ewe hoggs or cows as the ‘mowers’.

Those set stocking can still alter stocking pressure to keep up with grass growth. This can be achieved by taking more land out for silage production or bringing cattle in with the sheep for instance. Topping or mowing will yield benefits and short leafy silage taken opportunistically will serve as great ewe forage next year.

This year is definitely one to consider cutting back on nitrogen fertiliser. A nitrogen boost this spring could add to the quality problem and supress clover further. Of course, too much grass is far better than too little – when the stock get their teeth into it, they will get off to the best start, we just need to keep the future in mind to keep them growing off grass through the year.

SAC Consulting are launching a new service to support cost effective decision-making such as nitrogen use and silage production using FARMAX software – SAC GrazeUP, get in touch for more information on