There is lots of advice at this time of the year about grassland management into the autumn, with various articles suggesting that you should have a specific plan in place to extend out the rotation, build grass supplies etc.
This is all very good on paper, but over the years, I have found that there are far too many variables for it to be of much relevance on my farm.
I have been trying to have autumn plans for years, and they never work out the way I had intended.
The years when I have been able to build supplies of grass into the autumn, the weather has turned out rubbish and it has been too wet to get any value from it.
Then on other occasions, when the weather has turned out good, rain in August meant I wasn’t able to build any great supplies of grass.
I have a few specific problems that limit what I can achieve.
Coming into the autumn, I have an increased demand for grass. All cattle have grown during the summer and therefore eat more.
Then I have the sheep – the weaned lambs need more grass, while I also have to build enough grass to be able to flush the ewes.
I have silage ground coming back in, which helps
On top of this, my autumn cows are calving, and they go from requiring very little grass to needing the best grass that I can give them.
All this means that I have an increased demand for grass at a time when grass growth is slowing and when I’m being told to extend the length of the rotation.
I have silage ground coming back in, which helps, but then I’m taking ground out of the rotation for re-seeding, so I’m no better off.
But perhaps this is going to be a different year, and for once, I will be able to build up supplies, and utilise it all later in the season.
So far, it has been superb summer for growing and utilising grass in this part of the world. We were cutting excess paddocks most weeks, which has meant that we have a great build-up of silage for the winter.
Currently, growth is still flying along and ground conditions are excellent
Over the last three weeks, I have been cutting less and instead have been trying to keep this grass for the autumn. Currently, growth is still flying along and ground conditions are excellent.
Both cattle and sheep are going into covers of over 4,000kg of dry matter/ha, which is too strong, but is working here at the moment.
The sheep are getting a quick run over their paddocks and a batch of dairy heifers are coming after them to clean out the swards. The lambs are performing well, and the dairy heifers are doing all I need them to do. The paddocks are being eaten to the desired level.
Then I have my in-calf heifers, which don’t need to be putting on massive weight at this stage
The cows are being held tight to try and encourage the calves to slip under the electric wire into the next paddock. This means that the calves have access to the best grass, while the cows clean up the remaining grass.
Then I have my in-calf heifers, which don’t need to be putting on massive weight at this stage. Their paddocks are on the strong side and realistically, each would last the heifers six days. I have now split them in two and they can get three days in each half.
All these things are helping me extend the length of my rotation without affecting performance. But irrespective of all my efforts, the one big thing that is making this all work is the weather.
An autumn planner is great, but if you haven’t got nature on your side, it’s no use here.