Pasture management is a balance between managing the pasture available and setting the stocking rate to maximise pasture usage to generate a sustainable profit.
Three key points come to mind when mentioning pasture management
If you don't measure how do you know how much you are feeding?
If you don't record how can you plan?
If you don't analyse and monitor growth how do you optimise the cheapest feed on farm?
Grazing management must optimise future pasture production and quality, with milk production and reproductive performance.
The tools of grazing management are frequency and intensity of grazing. Pasture production and quality are mainly affected by cover (amount of pasture) and grazing intensity. Pasture intake is mainly affected by the amount and quality of the available pasture offered each day.
Measuring Grass Growth
There are two main theories around the 3-leaf method and the rising plate meter method.
The 3-leaf system refers to ryegrass growth, and even though ryegrass is a very important constituent of current British pasture, is only part of it . In the days when people used to use only large quantities of Nitrogen as their main fertiliser source this might have been true. Everything else including clover did not get a chance as it was swamped out!!! With the current pricing regime for milk, and the currently increasing costs of N , these days have gone.
Nitrogen will have to be considered as a tactically used growth multiplier, and as pasture managers you will have to become aware of the feed and nutritive value of other pasture species , particularly clovers. Our aim as pasture based farmers is to keep the balance right and allow for normal seasonal changes in quality and quantity of feed.
The plate meter (pasture meter) method of measuring pasture growth takes into account the varying constituents of the pasture and is the easiest technique to use to measure growth. It is easy to compare results with others , and has been well proven over a number of years in a number of places. In the past there has been a drive to stick with the same formula all year round but in reality this does not reflect true covers by doing this. The most critical time to use a plate meter (pasture meter) is in the spring and Autumn i.e.
In the spring when it is necessary to ration out what grass there is
Measuring will also enable you to recognize when magic day is coming and plan for silage. Magic day is just that day when the amount of grass growing on the farm exceeds the amount of feed being eaten. It is not uncommon to see cows held inside in the UK until 2 or 3 weeks after magic day, but if this happens it is pretty fair to say that the focus is not on pasture as a feed, but more as a source of low quality , high quantity silage.
In autumn when preparing for winter i.e. building up covers to carry through the winter
Recording and Using the Information
If you are measuring on a weekly basis it is well worthwhile printing out a copy of the latest walk to stick on the office wall. You can all see at a glance where things are going. Better still if this information is kept in the form of a wedge then use it to pull out paddocks for silage for example. At the early spring you will want to keep on top if the grass for two main reasons.
1. To keep the grass as leafy as possible for better quality feed
2. To prevent too much ryegrass seedhead forming. This will allow the rye to remain a lot more leafy going into summer.