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Managing high-quality pasture during feed surplus periods is a crucial skill in pasture management. This page explains that pasture surplus often develops in spring, which if unmanaged, can lead to low-quality pasture affecting milk production. It recommends identifying a surplus through factors like high pre-grazing covers and greater pasture growth rates. Solutions include making grass silage or baleage, sowing a summer crop, topping paddocks, speeding up rotation, and using deferred grazing. Each strategy comes with its benefits and risks, so you'll need to choose the one that best suits your farm's conditions.
Maintaining high quality pasture while feeding cows well during a period of feed surplus is one of the greatest skills of pasture management.
Temporary periods of pasture surplus develop mainly in spring and if not managed, ryegrass forms stems, flowers and seed heads, resulting in a low pasture quality.
If pastures are allowed to become stalky, feed quality will decrease so that in late spring and early summer, the herd's milk production will fall, even though there appears to be plenty of pasture. A rapid fall from peak production is usually a good indication that there has been poor pasture control. Many trials have demonstrated that production is affected right through into the summer period if target post-grazing residuals are not achieved through the period of spring surplus.
You can identify a surplus on farm using a variety of factors:
|Make grass silage or baleage||Silage: easy to feed out. Baleage: Make small lots reducing risk of creating a feed deficit. Potential for high quality.||
Silage: Need enough silage to make pit silage. Can result in too much out for tool long. Quality dependent on weather. Risk of leachate into waterways.
Baleage: Feeding-out is labour intensive in large herds. Can be more expensive than pit.
|Sow a summer crop or re-grass||Take out poor performing paddock and improve.||Crop failure, risk is high in dry summer. Extra labour to feed crop. Could slow down getting back into new grass early enough to get good winter growth.|
|Top paddock||Useful to manage a small surplus while feeding the cows well or restore quality.||Waste of pasture. Cost of time, diesel and depreciation. Only useful for small feed surpluses. Increases risk of eczema in autumn.|
|Speed up your rotation||Where grazed before the third leaf can depress growth rates. Good option for low-stocked farms as allows cows to selectively graze, need to do with topping.||In theory, a fast rotation can reduce growth rates, however, the reduction in growth rates is often not sufficient and in practice speeding up the rotation only results in residuals increasing. Very risky at high stocking rates. Often difficult to extend round out again. Hard to see what is happening with growth rates on a fast round.|
|Use deferred grazing||Take out poor performing paddock and get re-seeding or ryegrass. Can be better fit of feed supply to demand. Can always come back into the round. Hill farms can fence off parts of paddock.|