Spring rotational grazing planners: Don’t overlook the basics

Monday 22.02.2021 , News

Done right, your spring rotational grazing planner plays a major role in helping manage early spring grazing and help hit the grass residuals required to optimise second rotation grazing.

But these planners do have limitations and if you fail to react appropriately when things don’t go according to plan, grass performance can suffer.

What is rotational grazing?

This farming system allows livestock to graze smaller fields one by one. These fields are then closed and left to rest and recover, allowing the grass to grow back for future grazings.

How the plan works

Early spring is a delicate balancing act. Grass carried through winter needs to be rationed carefully, winter swards grazed to stimulate grass growth, and the right residuals achieved to set the farm up for the best grass performance later in the season.

Spring rotational grazing planners are a great way to navigate this challenging early grazing period, helping to work out the most efficient way to allocate grazing throughout early spring. A planner divides up the grazing platform and suggests what proportion of first rotation grazing should be allocated each day and week.

The aim is to graze grass to a specific residual to encourage later grass growth and performance. A planner takes into account average farm cover (AFC), the total length of first rotation and the predicted ‘magic day’ – when grass supply surpasses herd demand.

But while the guidance a planner provides is useful, it is vital you recognise its limitations. A spring rotational grazing planner is just a plan. It doesn’t consider, for example, the impact of stocking rates and outside influences (such as the weather) on projected grazing goals made at the start of the season.

A plan made one year will not automatically deliver the same results the next. Rather than simply following its recommendations, no matter what the circumstances, update the plan throughout the spring so it reflects the real-life situation - and react accordingly.

Gaining the best results

For the best grass growth and performance during second rotation grazing, old grass growth and dead material need to be stripped out of swards. The aim is for 100% of the farm to be grazed before the magic day and the start of the second rotation. To achieve this, you must make sure the first rotation is long enough in the planner.

The goal is to have grazed 30% of the farm during February, 60% by mid-March, and the final 40% stretched out to just before magic day, in early April. Be adaptable, as reduced or increased grass growth might alter the date you turn out other stock in order to meet these key goals.

Post-grazing grass residuals should also be used to gauge how much supplementary feeding is provided. The target residual is 3.5 cm during the first rotation. If the post-grazing residuals are higher than this, supplementary feeding needs to be reduced to stimulate appetite and demand for grass.

Conversely, if residuals drop below 3 cm, supplementary feeding needs to be increased to ensure cows are adequately fed.

Ask the grassland experts

If you have any questions about your grassland requirements in rotational grazing or other systems, such as zero grazing, then please contact us below.