It is hard to believe we are already halfway through the year, and in a month’s time we will start drying cows off in preparation for the winter ahead.

The weather over the past 12 months has created a challenging farming year. I recently discussed with my dad if there has ever been a year that would convince farmers, who are on the fence about moving from a grazing system to a full indoor system, to make that switch – this would certainly be the year.

However, as a grazing enthusiast, I will continue to face the challenges and keep the cows at grass, trying to make the most of any good weather and opportunities we get.


I first started measuring grass after returning from my placement year in New Zealand. I worked on a 1,400-cow dairy farm in Invercargill, on the South Island, where the weather is not dissimilar to home.

Although I didn’t come back with a passion for the New Zealand cross-bred animal, their enthusiasm for grazing and grass management inspired me to buy a plate meter as soon as I returned home in 2016. Since then, I have been measuring grass weekly during the grazing season.

Measuring grass takes roughly 2.5 hours, but I believe it’s a valuable tool that has improved grass management on our farm. We have selected fields for reseeding based on grass yields and it has helped me maintain optimal grazing covers by taking more bales off the grazing platform when growth has exceeded demand in previous years.

No surplus

Although current ground conditions are ideal on-farm, we have not been able to take surplus bales off the grazing platform. Low temperatures have resulted in grass growth rates being up to 50% lower than during the same week in previous years.

Poor grass growth rates have also forced us to graze 26 acres of second-cut silage ground, which will now be delayed.

Thankfully, we are in the fortunate position of having extra ground coming into the grazing platform, with a new reseed ready to graze.

Growth in the first three weeks was extremely poor, but seven weeks after the grass seed was sown, we will finally be able to graze it for the first time this week.

Feed rate

Currently, the spring batch is averaging 30l/cow at a feeding rate of 0.23kg/l of milk, while the autumn batch is averaging 23l at a feeding rate of 0.19kg/l.

In addition to poor growth rates, milk produced from fresh grass is lower than in previous years, likely due to poor grass quality.

Since our feed-to-yield system was installed in 2017, cows are generally fed at a rate of maintenance plus 20l for two to three weeks in May, dropping to maintenance plus 17l to 18l for the remaining periods of May and June.

Unfortunately, this year we have not been able to achieve anywhere near this level of milk production from fresh grass. We increased the cows to maintenance plus 15l in May for approximately 10 days, but milk yields started to fall and cows have been fed at maintenance plus 12l since.

This reduction in milk from fresh grass has meant cows are fed, on average, 1.5kg more dairy nuts per day than last year, and unexpectedly, milk yield is also back 1l/cow/day.

In real terms, this extra cost associated with the difficult weather conditions amounts to £140/day.

Unfortunately, I think the repercussions of the weather will continue into the winter months, with anticipated poorer silage yield and quality.

Hopefully, an improved weather forecast comes to fruition and we can start on the second cut of silage.