Grazed grass is the cheapest and most natural ruminant feed, but up to half that grown is commonly wasted.

If managed correctly, however, grazed grass can provide 85% and 95% of natural energy requirements of beef and sheep systems, respectively. Therefore, input costs and reliance on bought-in feed can be dramatically reduced.

Many producers finish lambs and cattle purely off pasture and conserved forages often earning a premium. They can also reduce other costly inputs such as anthelmintics and provide the market with naturally and ethically produced food.

There are costs associated with better grass utilisation with higher fencing, water provision and management etc. but benefits far outweigh the costs (Source; AHDB).

Approach to grazing

Annual yield (dry matter tonnes/ha)

Utilisation of grazed grass (%)

Useable yield (dry matter tonnes/ha)

Percentage increase

Set stocking, limited control over sward heights, grazing large areas for long periods, wet conditions

6.0 50% or less

4.3 N/A

Continuous grazing or relaxed rotational grazing, limited control over sward heights, grazing picky stock, eg finishing lambs or stock that should not have limited intake

8.5 60%

5.1 20%

Rotational grazing, reasonable grazing pressure, good control over sward height

10.2 65%

6.6 56%

Paddock grazing, frequent moves, good control over sward height

10.2 80% 8.2 92%

Source; AHDB Better Returns Programme

Different approaches to grazing highlighted in the table, can almost double grass yield which in turn increases stocking potential. A move to one grazing system entirely may be impractical and a combination can be applied still with yield improvements.

Understanding grass growth and the host of factors that affect it is key. Growing as much as you can is pointless if not utilised.

Optimum grass sward height for cattle and sheep differ. Measurement by eye, against your boot or by sward stick etc, monitors growth from week to week. Plate meters are an excellent management tool and so accurate they are second only to cutting, drying and weighing pasture samples so quickly establish quantity of dry matter available in a grazing paddock taking measurements as you walk.

How you set out your grazing layout successfully and introduce animals to it is key and significant planning is required.

Existing infrastructure accommodate temporary fencing and water supply solutions saving time and money as well as flexibility from one season to the next. Electric fencing is an ideal option with endless variations as the season develops. The use of Speedrite Unigizer™ power units for example gives the option to use mains, battery or solar power with the latter only requiring daylight to recharge batteries. Modern systems such as Speedrite also provide more power output from less input with Cyclic Wave® technology keeping stock fenced in.

Assuming stocking rates increase, over reliance on anthelmintics for worm and fluke control can be an issue. Effective grazing management can assist in this too if planned. Simply rotating grazing pastures with cattle one year and sheep the next reduces the parasite burden. Mixed grazing reduces species density and the worm build up but compromises to optimum sward height must be made. Forage areas partially grazed or even considered in a grass ley in your arable rotation helps. Permanent pasture in an arable rotation for reduced parasite build up and less anthelmintic use should not be ruled out too (Source: SCOPS).

Grouping lambs in tight age groups after lambing as opposed to one large flock has benefits when it comes to assessing worm treatment requirements especially using faecal egg counts (FECs). Other management actions are easier, such as adhering to withdrawal periods post treatment. Also, grading, weighing and batching more even batches of finished lambs is easier too (Source: SCOPS).

Moving weaned lambs onto forage aftermaths benefit hugely reducing worm burden exposure along with a good supply of fresh grass to achieve finishing weights quicker. Mature ewes in good body condition remain on these high-risk pastures post-weaning however. These animals have very low worm burdens themselves and are therefore producing very low FECs. however, they are ingesting large quantities of infective larvae and are effectively killing them reducing the overall level of contamination on that pasture for late in the season and/or next spring (Source: SCOPS).

In cattle, a dairy heifer study found achieving breeding weights took three months longer when burdened with worms, costing £260/head extra. Using mixed age grazing of cattle reduced worm burdens as older cattle excrete lower worm egg concentrations due to more resistance. The Leader/Follower system on rotational grazing allows young stock at turnout to graze ahead of older animals and keeps them in front of the worm burden and impressive growth rates of 0.81kg compared to 0.39kg per day were observed. Delayed turnout of cattle has also reduced young-stock worm burdens but considered impractical, although grazing forage aftermaths with stock remaining housed and eating excess overwintered forage an option (Source; Professor Andy Forbes Glasgow Vet. Med. School/COWS).

Areas of the farm utilised for forage and arable production often have weaker permanent fencing and once again electric fencing can provide a quick and movable solution. Large areas once cut for forage can be grazed. Pastures can also be split as required as grass growth dictates, using temporary electric fencing in conjunction with permanent boundary fences.

Liver fluke infestation (fasciolosis) is a constant problem during late autumn/winter especially in the wetter UK areas but slaughterhouse liver condemnations indicate fasciolosis is now widespread and increasing. Permanent exclusion from snail-infested areas or at least the boggiest areas should not be ruled out as farm conservation schemes rule out drainage etc. Compensate with better stocking rates elsewhere in improved grazing regimes (Source; SCOPS).

Regular weighing of grazing animals ensures DLWG targets are met and assist with market selection at optimum weights and reveal worm burdens. Many of the higher end weigh systems from Tru-Test etc. reveal weigh gain instantly if you are using EID tags too.