Never has it been more important for livestock farmers to maximise their available grassed areas.

With the recent dry weather reaching an all time high and the threat of a no deal Brexit looking like a real possibility it is vital that all aspects of livestock production is looked at. Maximising the grassland that you have available to you already is, in our opinion, a good place to start. It supprises many livestock farmers just how little it can cost to rejuvinate existing grass rather than plough it in and start again. In this article we will explore the possibilitys for increasing grass production whilst keeping costs to a minimum helping to future proof your bottom line.

Starting from the bottom

Staring with your soil may seen obvious but it is a fact that when costs need to be cut imputs and considered luxurys such as soil sampling and liming are some of the first things to go when a farm needs to save a few pounds per ha. It is also a fact that although grass by its very nature will grow in poor soil its success and nutritional content will suffer greatly and the costs of ph testing, liming and adding trace elements to the soil simply gets added to the purchasing of mineral licks and multi-vit bolases. PH testing is, although time consumingwhen doing large areas, a simple task that requires very little outlay but can have a great impact on the success of a grass system. It is recommended that an entire holding should be PH tested once every five years. This can be achived simply by selecting the worst proforming 20% of the farm as a starting point and then simple continuing by 20% year on year until the whole farm has been covered at least once. It is vatal that the data gathered by these tests should be stored for referal and tracked to make sure that any corrections that need to be made have worked as required.

Your grazing system has an impact too

Never has it been more obvious than in the summer of 2018 that a set grazing plan can be a hindrance to maximising available grass growth. Although having a set plan offers better structure to a system it can all to often be bad for its overall productivity. Set stocking in a difficult year will make grass management difficult and will add extra work load to all involved as stock need to be moved more regularly and on occasions held to allow grass to catch up. Moving to a system of flexible rotational grazing based on actual grass growth involves more forward planning but allows for far better grass utilisation. The reason for this is that livestock are moved onto fresh grazing that has had chance to fully re-establish and recover from its last grazing. Many grass leys recover quickly but with set stocking any new growth is quickly grazed back down meaning the plant must constantly work hard to produce further new growth. This, in a dry year such as 2018, simply adds extra stress to grasses and causes poor growth. Although it can be argued that individual stock performance slightly suffers from rotational grazing it is a method that continues to show high promise as far forage per ha production goes, particularly in a difficult season.

Over-seeding is key

Along with rotational PH checks rotational over seeding is another very cost effective way of improving existing grass swards. Trials reveal that simply over seeding an existing ley can increase forage production by as much as 30% in the following year, with some leys even doubling their previous yields. The cost of over seeding by broadcasting and harrowing in the new seed is roughly £211.50/ha. This compared to the cost of a full grass ley reseed (roughly £380/ha) makes over seeding an attractive method for grass land rejuvenation.

For more information on over seeding grass leys see out Grass Seed section – Grass Seed