Heavy and frequent rain showers have dominated weather conditions over the past month, creating a multitude of problems for livestock and cereal farms.

On livestock farms with heavier soils, ground conditions are getting extremely hard to manage and cattle are starting to cause significant surface damage through poaching.

Another problem that is building for livestock farmers is the lack of settled weather for harvesting second and third cut silage.

Where silage harvesting is being delayed due to rain, swards are starting to lie flat on the ground, causing grass to die back, turn brown and generally lowering the potential feed value of forage.

When it comes to managing grassland through wet conditions, outlined here are five questions that have been frequently raised in recent weeks.

1. If cattle are poaching, should I increase the size of paddocks?

Where cattle are running short of grass, they will be unsettled and more inclined to poach areas which have been grazed.

Wet grass has a low dry matter, meaning cattle need to eat more to get enough energy and protein in their diet.

Most grazing swards have a high percentage of lush grass at present, which is easily digested. Both factors combined mean cattle will consume more grass on a daily basis.

Therefore, if you are trying to stick to a three-day paddock system and cattle are marking ground as they run short on grass, then increase paddock size to give a bigger grass allocation.

However, if paddock size cannot be adjusted because of permanent boundaries, then animals will need moving on to fresh grass early.

Move stock after one or two days, rather than the usual three days. Even if there is still grass to clean off, don’t hold cattle in paddocks and force them to graze out swards tight to the ground.

Any rejected grass can be nipped off in the next rotation. It is more important to prevent poaching.

If using temporary electric wires, set up fences so grazing allocations are as square as possible, rather than long, narrow paddocks

If using temporary electric wires, set up fences so grazing allocations are as square as possible, rather than long, narrow paddocks. Cattle tend to walk less along the boundary wires in square grazing blocks.

Finally, use a back fence to protect grazed areas on bigger paddocks where cattle graze for periods longer than three days.

2. I spread fertiliser, but will heavy rain have washed it out?

Unless fertiliser was applied immediately before a thunder downpour, it is unlikely the nitrogen applied will be lost.

That said, pay attention to the forecast and avoid fertiliser applications within 24 hours of heavy rain.

The same goes with slurry applications on silage aftermath.

There are farmers holding off on spreading fertiliser until drier, warmer weather is forecast, with the aim of applying nitrogen one to two days before this settled weather materialises. ust make sure you have enough grazing if holding off on fertiliser.

3. Is my worming control adequate in wet conditions?

While it is wet, daytime temperatures remain fairly warm, so worm burdens can easily multiply on pasture. Keep a close eye on young stock, as they will be constantly picking up such parasites.

Wet, lush grass will naturally cause cattle to pass loose dung, as will swards after fertiliser applications.

Therefore, be more alert for signs of harsh coughing, cattle with dry coats and empty-looking as well as poor thrive.

Where cattle were dosed inside the past month, they will continue to cough for a short period after treatment as animals expel dead worms from the lungs.

If cattle were dosed properly, according to product guidelines, then animals should have adequate protection from worms in the short term.

However, some wormers provide longer-term residual cover and some products have a much shorter cover period.

Where cattle were dosed inside the past month, they will continue to cough for a short period after treatment as animals expel dead worms from the lungs

As such, check the product used, as some animals may need a follow-up worm treatment by the end of this month.

Other parasites to keep an eye on include fluke, particularly on heavy soils and fields, where surface water tends to form.

Also, keep on top of magnesium supplementation in lactating cows, as wet and lush grass will increase the risk of grass tetany.

4. Is the lack of wilting opportunity a problem with silage?

With such broken weather, the main priority will be to get grass mowed, harvested and ensiled while there is a window to do so. Wilting is a bonus, but not a necessity.

Yes, silage will have a lower dry matter and impacts fermentation, but take opportunities as they come. Feed value will decline as harvesting is delayed.

Daytime temperatures remain relatively warm, and when combined with a good breeze, mowing in the morning and harvesting in the evening can help to raise grass dry matter close to 30%.

Where silage is made as bales, there is greater flexibility to harvest grass during periods of broken weather, especially if the farm has its own machinery for the job.

Smaller areas can be cut on drier days, rather than trying to do everything on the same day. Wilting for eight to 10 hours will improve dry matter, reduce effluent and help keep bales from sagging.

Cutting smaller areas on multiple days is not an option when ensiling silage in a clamp, as getting grass in and sealed as quickly as possible is crucial. If low dry matter grass is being ensiled in the clamp, chop-length becomes much more important.

Increase paddock size or keep moving animals to fresh grass to limit sward damage.

For grass between 25% and 30% dry matter, which is difficult to extract moisture from by hand, chop grass to around 10cm. For wet grass below 25% dry matter, chop to 12cm.

The longer chop-length helps consolidation in the clamp, thereby reducing the risk of the silage slipping and collapsing.

Finally, if silage cannot be wilted, make sure all residual nitrogen is used up by the standing sward before cutting. Assume two units of nitrogen is used up by the sward every day. If 80 units/acre was applied, grass will be safe to cut after 40 days.

5. If ground conditions deteriorate and cattle have to be housed, how long do bales need to ferment before they can be fed out?

If housing is required and bales offered to cattle, they will be safe to feed out after a four-week period to ferment. Therefore, first cut and bales made from surplus grazing in early to mid-June should be fine to offer cattle at this stage.

To avoid wasting fodder, and reduce any risk of silage heating, open one bale/day and divide out across all animals.

Repeating this process on a daily basis will keep silage fresh and intakes high. If housing is necessary, prioritise stores and autumn cows first.

Try to leave spring calving cows in the middle of breeding at grass for as long as possible.

Read more

Earlier finishing and feed additives key to cutting emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture fell 1.2% last year