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Steps to Improving Grassland Management

21 May 2019
Type Media Article

By Enda O’Hart, Drystock Adviser, Teagasc Castlerea

We are now in the peak time for grass growth and all grassland farmers should have some plan how they are going to manage grass throughout the year. Almost every farmer has areas of their farm be that silage ground or good grazing ground that they want good grass growth from. Highly stocked farms require all their grassland area to perform throughout the grazing season. As grass is the cheapest feed available to grazing animals the objective of all grassland farmers should be to maximise the intake of high quality grass in the animal’s diet. In this article I will break down the fundamentals of any grassland management plan into three areas:


Soil Fertility

In terms of optimising grass growth it is essential that the conditions within the soil are ideal to allow the grass plant to grow at a fast rate. In order to determine what soil nutrient levels are, a set of soil samples should be taken and a Nutrient Management Plan/Fertiliser Plan drawn up for the farm. Significant numbers of farmers are now GLAS and already have this done, so these plans should be used to ensure you are putting out the correct fertiliser for each field. Remember liming of lands should always be the first step in addressing any soil fertility issues and then apply Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium and Sulphur as required. Farmers should also try to get all their slurry out in the spring to maximise the uptake of Nitrogen in the slurry.


Grass Utilisation

To maintain animal performance at its best throughout the grazing season, farmers should ensure that stock have access to high quality grass at all times. Whether you are lowly or highly stocked this should be the priority. 


This is obviously more easily achieved if farmers operate a rotational grazing system. In drystock situations typically stock move every 3 days or so onto a new paddock or field and return to that paddock or field in about 3 weeks during the main part of the grazing season. Paddock size is dictated by the size of the grazing group and the number of days they will stay in the paddock. A well fertilised paddock of 1.1Ha’s (2.7 ac) will feed 30 cows and calves for 3 days. In this situation you will need 7 paddocks for these 30 cows and calves. On sheep farms a 100 ewe flock would need 5 paddocks of 2Ha’s (5ac). Each of these paddocks should be split using temporary fencing giving a residency of 2 to 3 days per sub-paddock. 


Typically stock should be moved into paddocks when grass heights are 10cm and removed from the paddock at 4cm. If grass cover is above 10cm then these should be cut for silage straight away and put back into the rotation. The provision of a good water supply to each paddock is essential. Farmers should try to get stock out as early as possible in the spring to maximise performance from grass. This can only be achieved by starting to close up paddocks from mid to late October. The first paddocks closed should be the first grazed in the spring. Discussion group meetings or the Teagasc Grass 10 Farmer training courses will go through these items in more detail.


Significant quantities of silage and hay are conserved over the grazing period also and care should be given to maximise the quality and quantity of this fodder. Correct fertiliser use and cutting the crop at the correct stage are vital to ensure that both are achieved.


Grass Production

This part of the grassland plan looks at ways to further improve the quantity of grass produced on farms. Reseeding is one way to improve grass production on farms. However, it is an expensive procedure and should only be considered when soil fertility, rotational grazing system, drainage and weed control issues have been corrected and the stocking rate on the farm is such that the extra grass grown will be utilised. Reseeding will deliver better quality grass and more of it provided it is correctly managed. Reseeds require high soil fertility and will not survive if sufficient nutrients are not available. Good weed control and drainage are also very important in improving grass production. Another option that can boost grass production is increasing the clover content in the sward. Topping swards can also optimise productivity by cleaning off the sward and stimulating grass to grow.