Grass growth has been exceptionally strong during August and early September, resulting in heavy covers of grass building on many suckler farms.

While plenty of grass in autumn is a good problem to have, it nonetheless creates issues such as delaying the emptying of slurry tanks until swards are grazed off.

Ground conditions are currently good, but weather can quickly change for the worse during late September, making it more difficult to clean off swards.

Therefore, outlined are five tips to improving grass utilisation over the coming weeks.

1. Focus on grazing the wettest parts of the farm first

With ground in great condition, change the grazing rotation so that cattle are cleaning off the covers on the wettest paddocks from mid- to late-September.

This may take a bit of planning and re-positioning of electric fences to allow cattle skip over drier paddocks and access wetter fields.

Once the weather breaks, cattle can be moved back to drier ground as necessary to avoid any poaching on heavier soils.

This will ensure wetter fields are not carrying heavy covers into winter, which then die back and delay growth next spring.

2. Strip grazing

To increase utilisation of standing grass, consider strip grazing swards for a short period this autumn.

It will be more labour intensive, but it is highly effective and prevents cattle from wasting grass through trampling and soiling.

However, for this option to work properly, fences need to be moved around the same time every day and make sure cattle get enough grass for a 12-, 24- or 48-hour allocation.

This is particularly important during wet days, as cattle will be unsettled as grass runs out and more prone to breaking wires.

3. Splitting paddocks to reduce grazing area

An alternative to strip grazing is to temporarily reduce the size of grazing paddocks by erecting additional electric wires.

By sub-dividing paddocks into smaller areas, grass utilisation will improve and there will be less spoiling of the covers ahead of cattle.

Again, this option is really only applicable for as long as ground conditions remain dry and capable of carrying stock without poaching.

4. Increasing grazing group pressure

Rather than having numerous small groups of cattle grazing multiple fields, can cattle be doubled up with the aim of cleaning out paddocks faster?

It won’t suit every farm, especially those with fragmented land. But if ground can carry bigger groups, it is worth trying as a means to improve grass utilisation.

As bigger grazing groups will make their way through swards faster, this can also increase the number of paddocks available for slurry applications later this month.

5. Silage

On farms where there is a risk of not being able to graze heavy covers of grass before housing starts, consider baling a small area of grass for silage to improve utilisation.

With this option, the earlier silage is made during autumn, the better. Wilting will be crucial to get silage properly preserved, as grass dry matter will be low in early autumn.

Grass wilted for 24 to 36 hours can be a valuable feed, as grass will be highly digestible due to the high percentage of leaf currently in swards.

Properly wilted bales will also hold their shape better when stacked later in the year, unlike low dry matter silage bales which tend to sag.

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