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New Entrants to Farming: Grassland Management Workshop – Event Summary

21 February 2018

Soil adviser in a fieldIntroduction

Delegates attended the 6th FAS New Entrant Programme workshop held on 21st February at Radstone Hotel. The group were joined by Poppy Frater from SAC Consulting and Peter Addie from Watson Seeds.


Poppy Frater is SAC’s grassland and sheep specialist and is an expert in this topic, she opened the meeting by delivering a presentation on many aspects of grassland management.

She started by looking at soil health, and how soil structure, pH, nutrients and soil bioactivity (worms and bugs) are all key in optimising sward productivity. Concentrating on soil drainage and compaction she explained that layers of compaction can reduce oxygen to the soil which directly affects soil health and production therefore it is important to assess what level of compaction is present in your soil. All you need is a spade, a handy tool to aid assessment of your soil can be found at –

Results from a AHDB compaction trial carried out at SRUC Crichton site showed that dry matter production was up to 2.6t/ha less on areas trampled and compacted by livestock and up to 3.3t/ha on areas compacted by heavy use of machinery.

The number and severity of compaction layers found in a sample determine if remediation or preventative actions are required. The range of equipment and machinery required in each situation was discussed, using the incorrect equipment can either have no benefit or cause further damage.

Following on from the compaction topic, Peter discussed what the most important factors are when growing grass in order of priority as shown below. He stressed that the success of any re-seed whether it be deep plough or stitching in grass to rejuvenate a sward is dependant on getting all of the below correct.


Good drainage is a starting point for any crop, applying NPK is not a quick fix and will not help if the oxygen is limited


Maintaining correct soil pH is essential, farmers have an annual budget for fertiliser so why not lime?

Organic Matter

Soil is the same as a cow’s rumen it has bugs, bacteria and enzymes that require oxygen and need fed to survive as well

NPK + Sulphur

Sulphur is important for protein, limited sulphur in the atmosphere means it must be applied to grass artificially

Peter then went on to cover the most common grass species – Perennial Rye Grass (PRG) explaining the differences and purposes of Westerwald, Italian, Hybrid and Perennial Rye mixtures including the individual grasses Timothy, Cocksfoot and Clover. In summary Timothy is more resistant to water logging and has an upright growth habit making is less susceptible to ‘leaning’. Cocksfoot is deep rooted and drought resistant, it flowers early and trials carried out in Switzerland show it has a high digestibility factor. Clover is a major component in mixtures, red clover carries an oestrogen inhibitor which should not be fed to sheep 6 wks before or after tupping and can bloat cattle. White clover has a deep root system which penetrates the soil and forms nodules in year 1, in year 2 depending on temperature, moisture and enzymes it shuts down old nodules and forms new ones, fixing the nitrogen – this takes 2 years so don’t expect high yields in year 1. He mentioned the different flowering stages and when the D-Value is at optimum in grazing and cutting situations for each species.

The group then learned where seed is made as Peter comments ‘most farmers think its swept into a bag from the floor and is often blamed for weed infestations in young grass’. Seed is grown by arable farmers as part of a crop break rotation in countries with a continental climate such as Holland, Germany and Denmark. It is grown like hay being cut into swaths and dried however it cannot be scattered. Seed is expensive as it has to compete with Oilseed Rape as a break crop. OSR is a less risky crop to grow, if a seed crop fails through germination before harvest the only option is to dump it. All seed is encounters a rigorous screening process by what Peter describes as the ‘seed police’. Thistle and docken seeds are so different grass seed allowing any weeds to be easily identified and removed at an early stage.

The group then briefly discussed different strategies for incorporating new grass swards to get the most out of the newly established sward and maintain the soil structure and environment. The pros and cons of deep ploughing versus stitching in grass to rejuvenate an old sward were debated along with the use of brassica crops.

Poppy then continued her presentation covering livestock management once grassland management is correct including ewe nutrition from tupping to pregnancy, through to lactation and weaning. She demonstrated and explained the QMS Ewe Nutrition and Body Condition Score Timeline tool which was handed out to delegates and stressed that the key times to ensure BCS is correct is 20 days pre tupping to influence scanning and 35 days pre lambing to influence lamb survival. The group discussed ewe requirements and rumen function pre lambing, focussing on the need to produce good quality forage. If forage is not of sufficient quality i.e. below 10ME any energy shortfall must be met with supplementary concentrates. Concentrates high in starch can cause the rumen pH to drop, if it drops below 6.0 there is no cellulose digestion meaning energy cannot be extracted from the forage and the ewes energy demand is not being met which can lead to pregnancy toxaemia. Poppy went on discuss the importance of DUP (Digestible Undegraded Protein) and how it bypasses the rumen to achieve good rumen pH and functionality.

Feed space requirements and reduced stress pre lambing are vital for production, ewes that experience bullying have increased levels of stress which can adversely impact ewe/lamb bonding. Ewes need 15cm each for feeding space for both trough feeding and silage access. If a ewe believes the surrounding environment is too stressful she can prolong labour for up to 24hours, this prolonged lambing is proven to affect mothering ability, colostrum intake, and lamb vigour all of which affect growth rates and profitability. Sheep like predictability with recent studies showing that they can recognise faces and even notice if you change your hat! They don’t like mixing with unfamiliar sheep so mixing social groups is not advised where possible to reduce stress and aggression. Feeding a total mixed ration (TMR) can reduce competitiveness in feeding situations, it has also shown in both research and practical situations that less sheep lamb through the night when fed a TMR. Many people believe that ewes do not have a body clock but they come into season via a body clock so the same can be said about lambing.

In early lactation (up to 3wks) lambs have optimum feed conversion, MILK = GROWTH. When turning ewes and lambs out to grass use the rule of thumb that under 4cm of grass means supplementary concentrates are required to allow the ewe sufficient energy to produce milk. This is an efficient use of feed. Up to 3 wks of age the lambs is 100% dependant on its mother’s milk, it then starts to adapt and consume grass. At 12wks of age lambs are consuming mainly forage and are now competing with the ewes for the best quality grass, with the ewes winning the battle. If grass is poor consider weaning lambs and prioritising the best grass for finishing them. Lambs will convert concentrates more efficiently before weaning than after so creep feeding pre weaning is advised if required.

Poppy concluded the workshop by summarising worming and antibiotic usage. Although covered in more detail by Heather Stevenson in workshop 2 the key points were to stress the importance of rotating worm treatment groups as worms are evolving and are constantly adapting and gaining resistance to drugs. Ewes that are carrying triplets, in poor body condition or young growing ewes have higher faecal egg counts (FEC) than those of fitter, mature ewes and ewes carrying singles and twins. Leaving a proportion of ewes untreated  rather than operating a ‘blanket dose’ policy will reduce worm selection pressure and slow down the evolving of worms i.e. treat triplet ewes but not singles and leave fit, clean ewes untreated. Young lambs which have ingested sufficient colostrum can stand a level of burden therefore consider leaving these untreated – always look at the ‘risk’ table and prioritise vulnerable groups/individuals and treat accordingly.

The aim of this workshop was to combine trial and research results, theory and practical scenarios in order to give a true understanding of how the group could implement some of the grassland management strategies discussed to their own situations. If anyone would like more information or assistance on any of the topics covered please do not hesitate to contact Hazel.

Take Home Messages

  • Grass is the cheapest feed available, IF managed correctly
  • Don’t take grass for granted – treat it as a crop, quality reduces when its stressed
  • Digging a test hole to determine compaction is essential to optimise grass production
  • If soil smells like egg it is a sign of prolonged waterlogging
  • Compaction layers – 0-10cm requires an aerator, 10-15cm requires a sward lifter
  • No presence of worms within a sample is a sign of no oxygen and poor soil health
  • Topping grass is not mismanagement of grass as many farmers perceive
  • Good forage is the basis of any good livestock ration
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