FARMERS around Scotland have been focusing on the technical aspects of managing grazing to maintain grass quality throughout the season.

Grass-fed provenance is major plank of Scotland's red meat marketing platform, so it has been promotion and assurance body Quality Meat Scotland that has led on the subject with a series of five Better Grazing meetings across the country.

“Grass is a relatively easy crop to grow, but a hard crop to manage well,” said SAC Consulting's grassland and sheep specialist Poppy Frater, who took livestock farmers through the principles of how to make the most of pasture quality.

“There is no single recipe for good grazing management but having a good grasp of the fundamentals, the ‘nuts and bolts’ of pasture and its response to grazing management, will help deliver a successful grazing system to suit individual farms.”

Correct nutrition is a strong driver of productivity and profitability on livestock farms – and maintaining high quality, leafy pasture for as long as possible is the most cost-effective way of achieving good livestock performance.

“The main aim is to avoid the build-up of stemmy or dead material, therefore good grazing management is key to maintaining pasture quality,” said Ms Frater.

Comparing grass at different stages of maturity with common feedstuffs such as barley and straw, Ms Frater explained that young and leafy pasture is high quality with metabolizable energy of 12 to 12.5 MJ/kg dry matter, which is approaching the same ME as barley. But allowing increasing amounts of stem reduces the quality, and dead leaf has an ME of about 8MJ, similar to straw.

“The higher the ME the better the daily liveweight gain,” said Ms Frater. “A 30kg lamb on a field of 10ME grass will gain around 100g per day, however the same lamb on 12ME grass will gain 280g per day.”

At the meetings, farmers were encouraged to use a simple three week/three-day rotational grazing programme, which involves shifting stock around eight paddocks; grazing each paddock for three days then resting for three weeks during the summer months.

Ms Frater explained that the rest period was crucial to allow the grass to fully recover and regrow – and as grass growth changes throughout the season, that rest period needs to increase as growth slows.

She emphasised, however, that farmers would have to be reactive to conditions and perhaps shut a paddock up for conservation in the spring when growth is too fast and was getting ahead of the stock.

Following each of the Better Grazing morning sessions, the delegates visited a local farm to see grazing management in action, and then tried their hands at grass budgeting, using some of the tools available to help farmers budget and work out the most efficient and cost-effective way to utilise grass.

“QMS have produced a Quick and Simple Grazing Planning spreadsheet and AHDB have produced a feed budget spreadsheet which helps predict average grass cover on a farm," added Ms Frater, who urged farmers not to be put off by the technology and pointed out that most livestock producers already did much of the supply/demand balancing act already without realising it.

“Using the tools available and being more strategic is a good way for everyone to reduce costs and increase yield and quality.”

To download a free copy of the QMS grazing planning spreadsheet visit

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