SOME OTHER CONSIDERATIONS
Failure to make allowance for the relative nutritional values of different grass species
Not all grass is equal. You need to familiarise yourself with what species are growing in your fields, and then either adjust stocking rates accordingly or improve the pasture through good grazing management or re-seeding.
Lack of knowledge regarding the grazing requirements of different types of animal
Stocking rates are generally calculated using Livestock Units (LSUs). LSUs have been allocated to all types of livestock of various ages, based on their nutritional requirements relative to the needs of a single dairy cow (1 LSU). All you need to do is to combine the information given in the table opposite page top with the information given in the table opposite below to work out an appropriate stocking rate for the animals you want to keep on the type of land you have at your disposal.
Poor utilisation of available pasture
If you were to simply keep the same number of animals in a certain field all year round, you would probably find that it was over-grazed during the winter (meaning that additional supplementary feeding would be required, over and above the norm for the time of year) and undergrazed during the summer (leading to increased weed infestation and a decline in beneficial species, such as white clover in the sward). Therefore, better utilisation can be achieved by restricting the animals to a smaller acreage during the summer when the grass is growing rapidly and mowing the surplus area for hay or silage. This is then fed to the animals during the
winter when grass growth slows down and the need to buy in additional forage is reduced.
Lack of housing facilities
During the winter, when what little grass there is is of poor nutritional value, it is common practice to house livestock for a while. In the case of cattle, which can cause considerable damage to wet ground through trampling, this may be for the whole of the winter period. Sheep might only be housed for a few weeks around lambing time. Either way, it gives the land a rest and helps avoid damage to the sward and the soil structure that would otherwise have a negative effect on the following season’s growth. Unfortunately, smallholders often lack the facilities to house their animals.
Poor soil management
Good healthy soil is required to grow good healthy grass. Issues such as poaching, poor drainage, aeration, pH, etc, need to be dealt with.
Good grazing management requires good fences. Electric fencing provides the perfect solution for the smallholder, enabling larger areas to be subdivided into manageable sized paddocks at minimal cost. The temporary nature of electric fencing enables changes to be made quickly and easily.
Always plan a year or two ahead for your animals’ requirements. Think not only about how many animals you have now, but about whether it is your intention to increase numbers and, if so, will you be able to provide enough grazing for them? Consider taking fields out of rotation for re-seeding while livestock numbers are still low, or perhaps start to think about growing forage crops as well as grass. Also plan the marketing of your stock. For example, you don’t want to be going into the winter period with all of the current year’s lamb crop still on the holding, or this is going to impact negatively on your in-lamb ewes and on the welfare of your flock the following season.
Striking a balance
Many smallholdings have the potential to be very productive and good grassland management lies at the heart of that. There is a balance to be struck between maintaining the health of your grassland, the welfare of your livestock and the diversity of the surrounding habitat, but if you get it right then you, your animals and the environment all stand to gain.
Usual practice is to house cattle through the winter, but not all smallholders have suitable facilities
With good management of grassland, smallholdings have the potential to be very productive