Plan grazing to make the most from grass

Beef producers could learn a lot from their dairy counterparts by making better use of grass, and substantially improve profitability as a result. Grazed grass costs just £57/t of dry matter, according to AHDB figures, compared with up to £140/t for a 16% protein cattle ration – and visitors to the Grassland & Muck Event can find out how to make the most of this low cost feed.

Speakers in the popular forum programme include Matt House – who has switched the beef herd to rotational grazing at Bowden Farms, Templecombe, Somerset. “Dairy farmers have been utilising grass to the maximum for years, but the beef industry has been slower to take this up,” he says. “There are low returns in the beef sector, so we need to do something different to cut our costs.”

Mr House is taking part in AHDB Beef & Lamb’s ‘beef from grass’ project, which has involved soil sampling and setting up a nutrient management plan on the farm. He has switched to year-round rotational grazing, moving the cows every 24-48 hours. He monitors grass growth on a weekly basis, using the data to generate a growth and demand profile.

“This allows us to make the best use of the grass, whether for grazing or conservation,” he says. “Moving to a year-round grazing system has been a steep learning curve but has saved on feed, fuel and labour and is the best thing I could have done.”

Of course, it’s not just beef producers who can make more of their grass: There is plenty of room for dairy farmers to boost efficiencies too. Kingshay data highlights that the top 25% of dairy producers achieve 2,530 litres per cow more from forage than the bottom quartile.

Either way, the same grass management principles apply, says Sarah Pick, scientific officer at AHDB Beef & Lamb. The first step is to plan the grazing season: Calculate how much grass is available, set up a rotation and keep a close eye on grass growth rates. “Identify which fields are producing the most grass and coincide your rotation with that. Good infrastructure will ease management.”

It is also important to calculate how many cattle the grazing platform can support. While mid-pregnancy cows need to be allocated 1.5% of their body weight in dry matter intake per day, late lactation cows should eat 2% of their body weight. Early to mid-lactation cows need 2.5% and growing cattle should have 3% per day. An average weight, number of stock in the group and area available need to be used as part of the calculation to plan stocking.

The ideal time to turn stock out is when pasture reaches 2,500kg/ha of dry matter; around ankle height, says Miss Pick. “When grass grows past this, utilisation and feed quality drops rapidly.” Ideally, farmers should then take this pasture out of the rotation and shut it up for silage.

Cows should graze down to about 1,500kg DM/ha (around 4 cm), and be moved to fresh pasture at regular intervals. If there is too little grass, cattle will be forced to eat lower, which will prevent regrowth, so farmers should consider supplementary feeding where grass growth is insufficient.

Nutrition is key both to grass growth and quality, and the revised RB209 nutrient guide is being released at Grassland & Muck to help farmers get the most out of farmyard manure and slurries, says Miss Pick. “As a guide, the maximum usage of nitrogen for grass silage is 2.5kg/day of active growth, so 50 days between application and cutting would require 125kg/ha of N.”

  • Sarah Pick and Matt House will be speaking at 13:30 on Thursday 25th May in the forum programme at the Grassland & Muck Event (24-25 May). Richard Simpson from Kingshay will also be speaking on maximising milk from forage, at 12.30 on both days. Tickets are now on sale and visitors can save £4 per adult ticket by purchasing in advance. For more information visit