FPP part two: the big grazing management question
In part two of our grazing management guide, Declan Marren looks at how the focus farms have adopted grazing systems that best suit their individual farms.

Last week we took a closer look at just how much is to be gained by managing grazing throughout the season. By moving from a set stocked system to paddock grazing there is the potential to grow and utilise over 90% more grass, with an energy supply increase to animals of up to 110% (Table 1). This not only leads to an increased stock carrying capacity of every acre of ground, but also significantly boost daily liveweight gains of grazing animals.

The benefits, therefore, are quite clear and while the above figures are achievable through extensive use of paddocks, the fact is that moving from set stocking to any form of rotational grazing is going to improve grass growth and utilisation, and in turn stocking capacity and daily liveweight gains – driving output per hectare on your farm.

Grazed grass is the cheapest feed we can produce and while we may not be able to enjoy the 280+ day-grazing seasons achievable in other parts of the world, to me this means we need to make all the more use of grass during the shorter grazing period that we have.

It’s never too late to set up a rotation for animals. Grass growth across the country has been phenomenal over the last fortnight, with growth rates sitting comfortably in the mid 80s kgDM/ha/day. This is nearly double the typical daily demand on most livestock farms.

Boost silage reserves

Having endured a poor second half of last year and a difficult spring this year, everyone is feeling the pinch of the prolonged winter routine. Fodder stocks are at an all-time low and work needs to be done to replenish them for the coming winter.

Every blade of grass grown on-farm needs to be utilised this year, as we try not only to conserve enough fodder for a normal winter but also replenish our buffer stock in the yard. Already this year the use of rotational grazing has allowed two of the six focus farms to conserve excess grazing as baled silage. In a set stocked situation this grass would have been trampled back into the ground by grazing stock, while reducing performance of those animals that grazed it.

Focus farms

Each of the focus farms have adopted some form of rotational grazing that best suit their farms. Here is what they are doing.

Sub-dividing fields for cattle

Last year the Mackays at Greenvale, Thurso, simply split one 16-acre field in two with a single strand of mains electric fence. This field was adjacent to another nine-acre field. Across the 29 acres they ran a bulling group of 35 cows for the full summer. As well as this they managed to take out eight acres as surplus grass. Calves averaged 1.3kg/day from birth to weaning. With three paddocks they were moving every five to seven days.

This year the three paddocks will be sub-divided again to create six paddocks for the grazing group. This is to give Mark and Shona greater flexibility over grazing decisions. If a paddock becomes too strong it is much easier to manage without one sixth of the grazing rotation, compared with taking out one third of the rotation when it was only three divisions.

The Gammies at Drumforber, Laurencekirk, divided one 15-acre field into three and an adjoining 12-acre field into two. This was done with temporary posts and two strands of rope wire. Rope wire was used to be easier for animals to see and get used to.

Again, one bulling group rotated around these paddocks for the most of the grazing season, barring one week towards the end of June when grass growth was poor.

Matching stock to field sizes

The Duffuses at Mains of Auchriachan, Tomintoul, had three similar-sized fields beside each other that they rotated autumn calvers around all summer. The cows were removed at weaning time and the calves remained on the rotation. This is a simple system yet still achieves the ultimate goal of rotational grazing – increased grazing pressure followed by a period of rest and recovery.

Sheep grazing

Last year the Duguids, Mains of Cranna, Aberchirder, grazed 150 ewes with predominantly double lambs at foot on a 17-acre field divided into four. This was achieved with temporary posts and four strands of temporary electric wire on a battery fence.

They also managed to take out nearly 30 bales of silage as surplus grass during a period of high growth. This year they have decided to increase the number of paddocks per grazing group to six as well to give them more options.

This year the Biffens at Mains of Arnage, Ellon, are grazing all their ewes and lambs across seven paddocks using a combination of a permanent spine fence and Gallagher Smartfence off of these to create more paddocks. The Websters at Ardhuncart farm, Kildrummy, have gone with a more permanent option with Octoposts every 15m and four strands of electric wire. This has been done to split a 22-acre field into four paddocks.

Shoulders of the year

One other area where we have seen progress made on the focus farms is getting stock out to grass earlier in spring time. While last spring we managed to get stock out up to six weeks earlier than in previous years. This spring was a lot more challenging, yet we still managed to get stock out two to four weeks earlier than prior to the start of the project.

This was achieved by doing two things:

  • Not grazing all swards completely out in the back end of the year. Retaining even a small cover of grass over winter allows the grass to start growing that bit earlier come spring, as it has leaves to capture sunlight and photosynthesise. If a grass plant has been completely grazed out over winter, when it starts to grow in spring all of the energy to do so must come from the roots of the plant. This can take longer to achieve due to lower soil temperatures.
  • Getting fertiliser out at the first available opportunity in spring. Each of the six focus farm were monitoring soil temperatures in spring and once soil conditions allowed and soil temperatures were consistently above 5°C, fertiliser was applied at a low rate (30 -40 kgN/ha) to kickstart growth.
  • Benefits of rotational grazing

  • Increased stock carrying capacity/ha.
  • Increased daily liveweight gains.
  • Potential to boost silage reserves in times of high growth.
  • Animals are easier to herd as they are used to being moved regularly.
  • Any sickness can be detected earlier through increased herding.
    Scotland loses BSE negligible risk status after case confirmed on-farm
    A case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) has been confirmed on a farm in Aberdeenshire, in the northeast of Scotland.

    A classical case of BSE was identified on farm as part of routine surveillance in the northeast of Scotland, the Scottish government has confirmed. The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) is investigating the source of the outbreak.

    The disease was found in a pedigree animal that was not imported to Scotland. As a result, Scotland will lose it's BSE negligible risk status which it gained from the Word Health Organisation (OIE) just last year.


    The animal in question did not enter the human food chain. All animals over four years of age that die on-farm are routinely tested for BSE.

    The animal's cohorts, including offspring, have been traced and isolated, and will be destroyed in line with EU requirements.

    Movement restrictions have been put in place at the farm, while further investigations to identify the origin of the disease occur.

    “While it is too early to tell where the disease came from in this case, its detection is proof that our surveillance system is doing its job. We are working closely with the Animal and Plant Health Agency to answer this question and, in the meantime, I would urge any farmer who has concerns to immediately seek veterinary advice,” chief veterinary officer Sheila Voas said.

    BSE-free for a decade

    Scotland has been BSE-free since 2009. In May 2017, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) recognised the official BSE risk status of Scotland (and Northern Ireland) as negligible risk, the lowest risk level. This follows on from the Scottish government’s application to the OIE in 2016.

    A spokesperson for the Scottish government confirmed that this case will have an impact on Scotland's BSE-free status.

    The case identified is classical BSE. This is the type associated with contaminated feed and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, which caused the European mad cow crisis at the end of the 20th century.

    The second variety, atypical BSE, appears spontaneously in older cattle and remains unexplained.

    Read more

    South Korea to tighten US checks after BSE case

    Political ‘impasse’ stopping progress for Scottish farmers
    The UK and Scottish Governments must “resolve the impasse” over policy and financial frameworks and power repatriation

    The UK and Scottish Governments must “resolve the impasse” over policy and financial frameworks and power repatriation if they are to create an agricultural policy that “fits the needs and profile of Scottish agriculture”, according to NFU Scotland.

    Commenting during a lengthy debate on the draft UK Agriculture Bill on Wednesday, the union’s political affairs manager, Clare Slipper said: “However, we have been equally clear that such a schedule – or any other alternative vehicle – must come about through constructive work between Scottish and UK ministers, rather than being imposed by Westminster.

    “It is critical that, within a commonly agreed regulatory and standards framework across the UK, Scotland retains complete autonomy in the development and delivery of new agricultural and rural policy, through an effective transition period, that will enable managed change at business, sector and industry levels,” she said.

    Pete Wishart MP told the House of Commons Chamber that the Scottish Government would not agree to a schedule to the bill “as long as this [UK] Parliament and this Government fail to respect the devolution settlement […] We are happy to have common frameworks across the United Kingdom, as we have said again and again, but they have to be agreed and negotiated; they cannot be imposed.”

    Terms of reference

    Defra Secretary Michael Gove said that his department would soon publish terms of reference for a review of funding across the UK.

    “I can guarantee, however, that agricultural funding will not be Barnetised, and the generous—rightly generous—settlement that gives Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales more than England will be defended,” Gove said.

    Successive MPs raised concerns that food production and food security needed greater emphasis in the bill: “Food production is missing from this agriculture bill,” said Deidre Brock MP, SNP shadow Defra secretary: “We really cannot talk about how to regulate or support farming unless we also talk about producing food,” she said to the House.

    WTO uncertainty

    With regard to the vexed question of who should negotiate on the UK’s behalf and how negotiation positions should be reached by the UK Government and devolved administrations, Gove said: “I should stress that the bill will ensure that the UK can take its seat at the World Trade Organisation and negotiate on behalf of the whole United Kingdom.

    ‘‘Some people have suggested that the bill constitutes a power grab from our devolved Administrations—nothing could be further from the truth.”

    Industry backlash over sheep tag proposals
    By Emily Smith and William Conlon

    Farmers in Scotland may soon be required to use a secondary tag for sheep when sending them to markets or finishers, if draft EU regulations which are currently under consideration are implemented, Farmers Journal Scotland understands.

    Commenting on the possibility of the new regulations, a spokesperson for NFU Scotland said: “Last Thursday, NFU Scotland was made aware that a draft delegated regulation has been produced by the European Commission which is relevant to sheep EID. At the moment, normal practice in Scotland is to use slaughter tags for the traceability of sheep destined for slaughter within 12 months of birth. This allows for animals to be sent to markets and finishers in batches without the need to record individual identification numbers or to identify these animals with a secondary tag.”

    There are concerns within the industry that such regulations could have a detrimental effect on the store and prime lamb trade.

    “I don’t see the need to change the current tagging regulations,” according to Andrew Wright executive secretary to the Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland.

    “What it means is that any movement apart from direct to slaughter from the farm of birth will require two tags. Other countries in the EU don’t have the stratified system we have. In Europe the majority of lambs would go direct from farm to slaughter whereas a lot of our lambs will come down of the hill for further feeding.”

    “It is not only the increased cost and workload associated with using the additional tags but the requirement that every individual number would be recorded in the flock register. There could be big issues with cross compliance if numbers were entered incorrectly.”

    Store buyers

    One possibility is that farmers may decide to send sheep directly to abattoirs which could affect numbers moving through auctions.

    The NFUS spokesperson confirmed that the Union are currently examining the wording within the draft delegated regulation: “We aim to demonstrate to political representatives in Scotland and Europe that our current sheep traceability provides full traceability without adding over burdensome cost and bureaucracy on our stratified sheep production system.

    “It is important to stress that this draft regulation is not final and that discussions will continue in Europe on this draft delegated regulation.”

    Chairman of the National Sheep Association (NSA) Scotland, John Fyall has also confirmed that the organisation will work with other stakeholders to address any possible implications: “We found out about this very late in the day and we’re slightly put out that Defra didn’t think to consult NSA stakeholders.

    “NSA headquarters have only been made aware of this in the last fortnight and it’s frankly shocking that the whole industry has only found out about this late in the day.”

    It is not yet known when these draft proposals, if passed, would come into effect for Scottish farmers.

    Both the Scottish Government and Defra were approached for a comment, but failed to respond before publication.