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Preparation for turnout – are you ready?

With cows being turned out across the UK, it is essential to forward plan to maximise grass dry matter intakes. With forage stocks, straw and by-products expensive, along with rising feed markets, more farmers are looking at maximising milk from grass this year.

At turnout milk yields may rise or fall for a few days, this is expected as the cows are changing a substantial proportion of their dry matter intake from conserved forage to fresh forage. A gradual transition to grazing over a short period will minimise fluctuations in milk output. To minimise the effect on milk output, ensure that grass is at its optimum for grazing.

Points to consider before turnout and maintenance work

  • Ensure all winter grazing sheep are moved in plenty of time from grazing and silage ground
  • Which stock are you turning out? (all cows or just low yielders)
  • Grass covers
  • Water supply and troughs
  • Ground conditions
  • Compound feed requirements
  • Fertiliser requirements
  • Stock fencing
  • Gates and gateways
  • Electric fencing
  • Tracks and roadways

Which fields are to be grazed first?

Ideally grazing should start on paddocks that have been closed up and left to rest, or when the average grass cover is 1900-2000kg dry matter per hectare. Ground and weather conditions will have a massive impact on the timing, turning cows out to wet ground will do more harm than good. Cows should be moved to fresh pasture when the field cover has been reduced to 1500kg dry matter per hectare. This will maximise intakes in terms of quality and utilisation. The first field is to be re-grazed once all other paddocks/fields have been grazed, which ideally should be around 21 days later. The trick is for this field to be re-grown to target grass height of around 2.5 T dry matter per hectare in that time.

Water Troughs

Empty and wash out field water troughs, checking for leaks and insufficient water pressure. Water is a major and essential nutrient for all animals. A dairy cow can drink up to 100 litres of water a day with intakes in the region of 4 litres of water to 1 litre of milk. A constant supply of clean water is crucial to achieve consistent milk production and maintaining healthy animals. Cows should walk no further than 250 meters to the nearest trough.

By Paul Mardell, NWF Technical Development Manager

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