Grassland management in challenging weather

Tyrone farmers Adrian McCullagh and Damien Carloan with UFU deputy president Ivor Ferguson and James McCluggage looking at a landslide on a hill farm which washed tonnes of mud across the road. Picture: Cliff Donaldson
Tyrone farmers Adrian McCullagh and Damien Carloan with UFU deputy president Ivor Ferguson and James McCluggage looking at a landslide on a hill farm which washed tonnes of mud across the road. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

Data from the Met Office indicates 63% of the average August rainfall fell within a nine hour period on one night this month.

With unsettled conditions forecast to continue in the near future, what can be done to manage grassland in these circumstances?

Grass growth rates have been above the long term trend recently although shorter days and cooler temperatures will mean a return to the seasonal decline in growth rates. Utilizing the grass that is grown without causing excessive poaching damage is difficult.

Lighter stock will do less damage to land so where possible keep heavier stock on drier land. Utilizing small, square blocks of grazing land and moving stock regularly, i.e., at least once daily and preferably more frequently, can help to minimize poaching damage. This also results in less grass being wasted through trampling. Cattle will tend to walk more when unsettled and it is these hoofprints that cause damage, especially when concentrated in a narrow strip.

On/off grazing is another useful technique but requires good infrastructure to carry out properly. Animals do not spend 24 hours per day grazing and are capable of eating all of their daily requirements for grass in two three-hour sessions per day. Damage to land will be minimized if cattle can be taken off the grazing area when not grazing as this is when most damage to land is done.

Having several entry/exit points in a paddock and grazing an area from the back rather than the front so that animals are not walking over a grazed area will also help to reduce damage. It is also helpful to use a back fence to protect the recently grazed area.

Zero grazing – if suitable land and equipment is available zero grazing may allow some grass closed for silage to be used as a buffer feed. One-pass direct cut equipment is best if specialised zero grazing equipment is not available. Chop length isn’t important so a single/double chop harvester can be used. Only cut enough for one day’s feeding and cut high enough to avoid soil contamination.

Where silage has to be cut and waiting for drier conditions isn’t possible, trailers should not be filled full and ideally controlled traffic principles should be used.

This is to minimize compaction because wet soil is particularly prone to damage. Care should also be taken to avoid soil contamination when harvesting silage as this can adversely affect fermentation in the clamp and can lead to listeriosis when fed out.

Stock should be herded carefully in poor weather conditions as the additional stress of changeable weather can trigger the onset of pneumonia in calves and grass tetany in older stock. Coccidiosis is a disease of young cattle (one to two months to one year old) that may occur sporadically during poor weather conditions.

This can also be associated with calves crowding around a trough or creep feeder which concentrates the hosts and parasites within a close area. It is also important to have all vaccinations up to date, especially for clostridial diseases.

Severe flooding damage

Farm businesses should note that, if during any Basic Payment Scheme year a section of your land becomes unexpectedly flooded or damaged, and if this impacts on your ability to carry out agricultural or woodland activity on land you have claimed as being eligible on your Single Application Form, you are advised to submit a force majeure application to DAERA within 15 working days of the event to allow your circumstances to be considered. 

To do this, you are advised to immediately contact Area-Based Schemes Payment Branch on 0300 200 7848.  A link to the application form can be found here: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/publications/force-majeure

If you need to speak to a DAERA Development Advisor on any issues raised in this article, they can be contacted on telephone number 0300 200 7843.