Measuring sward height is beneficial in set-stocking, strip grazing and semi-rotational systems. By working to grazing height targets, you can increase grass utilisation by around 10-15% and promote more high quality grass growth later in the season. When grass falls below target height, move stock on to new area, or tighten up the grazing area when height moves above target.
Using a sward stick, take 20 to 40 random height measurements of the undisturbed grass leaves across the field. These should include the height of rejected patches around dung pats, but avoid seed heads, stems, weeds, gateways, drinking troughs, field margins and areas under trees.
Do this regularly in the spring to track the direction of grazed grass height. Once you have worked out the average height you can decide what to do next. For the more technically-focused farmer, the sward stick measurement will also enable calculations on the amounts of dry matter in the grass, as well as the height.
“It’s very important pastures recover before being grazed again, so regular applications of fertiliser with a balance of all nutrients is important, keeping track of pasture growth will tell you if the applications are right.
Profitable Grass Growth
Working out the true feed value of grass can be difficult, but with a little attention to detail farmers can significantly increase the proportion of feed grown on farm – reducing feed costs. While compound feeds conveniently display all the required information on the label, grass is not quite so straightforward. However, a few simple measurements can really improve productivity.
“In almost all cases, the cheapest type of feed is grass grown on-farm,” says GrowHow Farm Adviser Hefin Llwyd. “Anything you can do to make more of the grass available to your livestock will bring dividends.
“Some farmers adopt paddock grazing and use either a rising plate meter or a sward stick to measure grass. Graze a small area intensively for a day or two then move stock on. This is great for utilisation because the animals eat most of the grass.”
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