Improving Grassland: Getting more from less

Thursday 10 June 2010
Improving Grassland: Getting more from less

UTILISING the grass available to you before it goes to seed may seem a simple concept but many farmers are often under-stocked and unaware that valuable grass is going to waste.

According to grassland advisor Charlie Morgan, 40% of grass grown in this country is wasted due to poor utilisation.


The agricultural and environmental grassland specialist was one of three speakers talking at a Northwest Livestock Programme grassland improvement event organised by Myerscough College at Higher Micklehurst, Burnley. He said that on permanent pasture the aim is to keep the swards between 4 and 8cm (1.5 to 3 inches) for sheep and 5 to 9cm (2 to 3.5 inches) for cattle.

This is because if leaves are not harvested or grass is allowed to go to head, dead matter builds-up in the sward, preventing maximum growth and reducing pasture quality over the season.


Grass Utilisation - making the most of what you've got


The aim is to keep grass in a vegetative state through managing sward heights, and the cheapest way to do this is to manage with grazing.


If rotational grazing, the sward should be grazed down to 4 to 5cm before moving to another field.


He said: “There is no golden answer it is just attention to detail. You’ve got to use your grass, just like if you don’t get your N, P and K’s right and it’s going to cost you.

“Yet only a small percentage of farmers do soil testing – if you don’t know what you’ve got how can you improve it.”


Using a sward stick, the 50 attendees each assessed the average height of the sward at the hill farm by taking an average measurement in a field that had varying mixed heights of grass, which in Charlie’s opinion was down to it being under stocked.


Grass varieties and reseeding


Helen Mathiue (British Seed Houses) put the price of producing grass at 5 pence per kilo of dry matter (£50 per tonne) and silage at 13p to 14p per kilo, which when compared to the cost of concentrates (18p to 22p) it makes sense to get the most out of the grass available to you first.


But she said a poor sward, with less clover and, importantly, less perennial ryegrass content can cost 10p per kilo of dry matter – double that of a good sward - taking into account that a dry cow eats eight tonnes of dry matter a year and a ewe and two lambs 0.6 tonnes of dry matter a year.


It is important to keep weeds under 10% as they sap nitrogen away from growing grass


How much perennial ryegrass in the sward is important too as this has a higher feed value and is more palatable (Ryegrass is red at the base). The same applies to clover as there are different varieties. Clover with red nodules, rather than grey or white, is the best variety to have as this fixes nitrogen most effectively.


See EBLEX’s Grassland ID Guide for further information on how to identify how much ryegrass you have in your sward



And below is DairyCo's video of Charlie Morgan at another event explaining the different species and varieties of grass to suit your farming style. Choosing the right type of grass could have positive effects on the yield, and the speed of turnover. This short video looks at why rygrass, clover, mixtures and recommended lists are important when deciding to reseed:



Aeration: Reducing compaction to improve fertility / drainage

Conditioning soil by aeration to improve fertility and drainage by removing compaction, and over-seeding to improve grass growth without having to take a field out of production were also covered at the event.

Watch videos from the event by clicking on the aeration demo at the top of this page or the slot seeder demo below: 


James Bretherton talked about the composition of soil (24% air, 25% water, 6% organic matter, the rest minerals) and how copper deficiency and other deficiency’s are often due to there being higher levels of other minerals “locking up” the copper preventing it from being absorbed by the animal and passed through the system - again why soil testing is important.

After listening to what the speakers had to say most of the farmers were keen to explore the use of an aerator, do soil testing and improve their grazing strategies by eating grass harder.

(Report by Adrian Capstick)

Further information (from Eblex):

Improving Soils for Better Returns

Improving Pasture for Better Returns

Managing Clover for Better Returns

Recommended Grass and Clover Lists


Further information (from DairyCo):

Do you need to reseed? Speaking at another grassland event, DairyCo Extension officer Chris Duller explains the cost and importance of reseeding.


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