An effective spring turnout can make or break the grazing season, and whilst the weather will of course play an important role, quality pasture management will be key.
Grass plants have three fully viable leaves, a fourth will grow but the first will die away. Allowing this to happen is a waste and reduces plant establishment. For those without a plate meter, using the three-leaf method is an accurate method determining the optimum point to graze the pasture. The first grazing round is typically low in volume but often surprisingly high in dry matter, so do not delay turnout if ground conditions allow. Getting a good head start on the rotation will help farmers cope with higher growth rates in May.
‘Turnout’ doesn’t have to mean cows are out all the time. Kennedy et al (2009), showed restricting time at pasture improved grazing efficiency by increasing intake per bite and per minute.
Restricting access time when cows are grazing to approximately three hours twice a day ensures efficient pasture intake without impacting too negatively on wet ground. Research suggests access time being split as opposed to one prolonged period at grass, encourages intake per unit of time at grass and milk yield.
Managing dry matter intake will ensure fresh grass is fully utilised whilst maintain or improving animal performance. A typical Friesian/Holstein requires approximately 3-3.5% bodyweight in DMI, Jerseys can be slightly higher. That’s approximately 20kg DMI, with typically 12-14kg forage intake leaving another 6-8kg to be achieved in the parlour. This assumes forage intake can be achieved at pasture, which is often not true so at least 2-4kg silage DMI may be required.
Daytime grazing activity is typically at its lowest in the middle of the day, activity is high and sunrise and highest at sunset. Therefore, achieving short but effective grazing bouts during these periods will maximise grass intake and grazing efficiency whilst allowing further TMR intakes in the middle of the day, also reducing field damage.
In summary, early turnout when the grass plant has three fully developed leaves will stimulate early growth and keep farmers ahead of the inevitable grass surge. Whilst labour intensive, on/off grazing can be an effective method of improving animal performance and grazing qualities.
For more information, advice to help with your grassland management this Spring, speak to your local NWF Sales Specialist or visit our technical services page HERE.
You can also order your grass seed online with AgriExpress HERE.