When it comes to grazing management, rotating cattle around a series of paddocks makes best use of grass.

The aim of paddock grazing is to move cattle to fresh grass every few days, entering swards at the optimum stage of growth, the resting grazed areas to allow regrowth.

This takes a certain level of skill, which develops over time. Where farmers are considering paddock grazing for the first time this year, outlined are some tips for beginners.

1. Start with a small grazing area and one group of cattle

When starting out, set up paddocks on a small grazing area around 15 to 20 acres in size and concentrate on one group of cattle.

Doing too much too soon will likely see beginners abandon paddocks.

It takes time to learn about managing swards, gauging how long covers will last and dealing with a surplus or a shortage of grass.

By managing a small area, these factors are easier to deal with. Once confidence grows, the grazing area under paddocks can be increased.

2. How many paddocks are needed and moving cattle?

Aim to give cattle fresh grass twice weekly and re-enter paddock one after a three-week rest for regrowth.

This means two paddocks per week are needed, which, on a three-week rotation, requires a minimum of six paddocks.

However, starting with seven paddocks will give more comfort to beginners, as there is a buffer of grass during a dry spell, gives slightly longer for regrowth and another grazing area in a wet spell.

3. Don’t get hung up on paddock size

Grass growth in May and June can be twice that for July and August, so there is no set rule on what size of paddock to go for.

The key is being flexible. The aim is to give cattle enough grass to last two or three days per paddock.

Therefore, make use of poly wires and posts to make paddocks smaller when grass growth is strong and vice versa.

Bigger paddocks are easier to reduce in size when growth is strong. When growth tails off, remove temporary fences and revert back to the bigger grazing area.

4. Fertiliser after grazing

Ideally, grazed paddocks would get fertiliser once cattle are moved to fresh grass. But that is not practical.

Instead, aim to blanket-dress swards with nitrogen every three to four weeks or when doing other grazing areas on farm if that fits in better with growth rates.

5. Water provision

When setting up paddocks, water provision is always an issue. More often than not, water troughs are in one corner of the field, making it difficult to split areas in two or three paddocks.

But don’t let that stop you. Run the poly wire diagonally if needed or taper the fences towards the trough as necessary.

Once you are confident about how the rotation is working, troughs can be repositioned or new ones installed to more suitable locations that service multiple paddocks.

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