A lot of thought needs to go into how you’re going to graze your cattle; this is one of the biggest decisions you will make when it comes to your farm from a business perspective.
According to Tagasc, one extra day at grass is worth €270/day/100 cows in spring. In autumn one extra day is worth €150/day/100 cows.
There are several ways you can break this down, and reasons you might go with each. Each system has their pros and cons. Hopefully this blog post can help you find the system that suits your operation.
This is there you do not split up your pasture at all and graze the entire thing at once.
The advantage of this system is that there is little risk of poaching (the field being destroyed by deep hoofprints and growth being discouraged) because cattle aren’t confined to one corner of the field.
This system is cheaper than the others because you don’t have to spend money on an electric fence, or permanent posts.
Cows can be turned out sooner with this system which will save you money on silage. The grass needs to be grazed in spring before it gets too long.
However there are some stark disadvantages of having the cows out on continuous grazing.
If you are a dairy farmer, it will take much longer to collect your cows for milking. This can mean a larger spend on labour too, if you don’t have a good working dog.
It is harder to control both the amount of grass on offer and the quality because the whole area is open.
If you overstock the field with cattle then this can mean a lower milk yield because of there being less grazing on offer.
Alternately, if you understock the field with cattle, this can lead to the herbage maturing and the quality of grazing will decline.
The short term gains from this low preperation system could be nullified by the extra maintenance along the way.
Rotational (Paddock) Grazing
Rotational grazing is immediately different from continuous grazing because you’re confining cows to a smaller areas, but moving them when the quality of herbage demands it.
Block grazing is a rotational grazing system in which the field is quartered up in squares.
There is one drinker in the field in the middle where the four points meet. There is an increased risk of poaching in this system due to the traffic that builds up beside the drinker.
This can be quite a costly system, especially if you wish to make it a permanent one. Permanent blocks require timber stakes and high tensile electric wire.
Temporary blocks are slightly cheaper but they still carry a cost. They require temporary electric fence, reels and plastic stakes. A permanent stake is also recommended in the middle near the drinker.
The strip grazing system sees the field split into four horizontal strips. It requires three drinkers. You will need an electric fence system for this. Other than that, and labour, it is a relatively cheap system to operate.
The advantages of this system is it’s flexibility; you can delegate as much grass as you like to the cows and it is a good way of conserving grass for silage.
The disadvantages for this system is that it is very high maintenance. It is recommended that the fence be moved 1-2 times a day and this can mean a high labour requirement. As well as that, frequent decisions are needed by a skilled person like how much grass to offer.
There is a risk of poaching in this system too, especially in wet weather as the cows will be concentrated into a small area on the grass.
Spokes of a wheel
The spokes of a wheel rotational grazing system is the cheapest of the three systems to set up and operate.
For this, you require only one drinker which you place in the corner of the field. Then, you divide the field from there into triangle sections of equal area.
While the advantage of the system is the price, the disadvantages are the awkwardness of the shape.
It is difficult to spread fertiliser with the wires being at the angle they are.
Another disadvantage of this system is poaching. It is especially bad in this system as there is only one drinker which gets all the traffic, all the time, no matter which segment the cows are in.
Temporary electric divisions work best in large paddocks that double up for harvesting silage. These paddocks can be divided to achieve four or five grazings in spring and two to three in autumn when grass growth is slower.
Things to note in your grazing system
- A permanent field perimeter fence that incorporates a strand of electric wire makes tapping into a power supply with temporary fencing much easier. Where a large area is being divided, erecting a few permanent timber posts or stakes in key positions, or a main fence down the centre of the field, will give greater stability to temporary fences.
- Permanent posts placed either side of plastic water troughs will give greater stability and are vital where grazing with young bulls.
- Using poly wire with a standard or geared reel and pig-tail or plastic posts will allow the fastest setup time of temporary fences.
- Do not graze young bulls in paddocks in sight of heifers or cows and calves.
- Raising a wire with creep posts will allow calves to creep graze forward. Beware if grazing calves on a forage crop over the winter months as calves will become accustomed to going under the wire fence. A creep gate facility may be more useful in this situation.
- Cut-out switches can be used successfully where blocks of land are separated into a number of grazing groups. These will only cut power to the area where fences are being moved, reducing the risk of other animal groups breaking through.
- Where possible, setting up paddocks with access to shelter will benefit grazing cows with young calves during inclement weather.
When it comes to breeding season, the effectiveness of your grazing system is revealed.
Teagasc research has shown that cows that have good body condition will come into heat quicker after calving than those with poor condition. Your cows need to have sufficient grazing to maintain this. If the bull has too much body condition he may become lazy.
(A good way of tracking this is with Moocall HEAT, which you can check out here: https://moocall.com/pages/moocall-heat-information
Conversely, if a cow has too much grazing, she may put on too much condition, and come housing she could make feeding harder to manage.
Increased condition can lead to pelvic problems at calving, but also problems with the other cows if they aren’t getting what they need.
(If you do find yourself in the situation where your cow veers into the wrong body condition and you are concerned about how calving will go, the Moocall Calving Sensor will ensure that you are on the scene two hours, and one hour beforehand so you can assist if anything goes wrong. Learn more about it here: https://moocall.com/products/moocall-sensors.)
You may think it is early days to think about next calving when you’re only putting them out on grass, but maintaining body condition is a constant battle, and the place to maintain your advantage is at grazing.
Which system do you use on your operation? What were the biggest challenges you came up with when designing it? Would you think differently if you were in a dairy or suckler operation?
Let us know in the comments below!