Country Smallholding - - Feature The Deep End -

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.

Poor fenc­ing

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.

Poor plan­ning

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

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