By Farmer reporter

Cutting winter housing short by up to a month can add thousands of pounds to even a small farm’s profits. This can be achieved by improved grassland management through autumn, which can shift the date of housing and turnout and improve the quality of spring grass.

This message comes from Marc Jones, who farms beef and sheep just outside Welshpool and offers independent grassland management advice to farmers across Wales.

He says the process begins in the run-up to autumn, when average grass covers on livestock farms should be building up to 2,600kg dry matter/hectare by mid-September, ready for the final grazing round to begin in October.

Achieving continued autumn growth requires an application of nitrogen but this can’t be done after September 15 in nitrate vulnerable zones.

“Even just 30 or 40kg/ha can really make more of the potential late-season growth,” he says.

The target for most farms is to begin the last grazing round on October 7, although this could be earlier under less favourable conditions or later when only sheep are grazing.

“Around 60 per cent of the farm’s grassland should be grazed by the end of October and the final 40 per cent by mid-November, when stock should be moved for wintering – either to housing, on tack, on to kale or fodder beet or perhaps on to some shallow, well-drained hills,” he says.

“Anything which avoids housing will save the cost of bedding, manure disposal and machinery, and the key to achieving this is to extend the grazing season.”

By the time the final grazing round is complete, target average farm cover should be around 2,200kg DM/ha; some paddocks will be as much as 2,800kg DM/ha while those most recently grazed should be 1,500kg DM/ha.

“It’s all about building a wedge of grass for spring – in other words, having grass at different heights so it can be used in sequence and does not get out of control after turnout,” he says. “The first paddock grazed in October should be the first grazed next spring.”

Measures to help eke out the final round include ensuring lambs, finished cattle and any culls or surplus stock are sold; feeding some silage or on-off grazing.

“Farmers know their own land and conditions and will need to adapt to these, but it’s important that grassland is rested over winter,” he says.

“If autumn grazing can be extended until mid-November and turnout achieved in February/early March, a saving of roughly £1 per head can be achieved for every day a suckler cow is not housed – and that’s before youngstock are considered,” he says.

Marc's advice forms part of the AHDB Grass Campaign which aims to help producers make better use of home-grown grass swards, both grazed and conserved.