22nd January 2015

Paddock Grazing Project Pays Dividends for Lanarkshire Farmer

Winter rotational paddock grazing of breeding ewes was one of the main discussion topics at the recent Clyde monitor farm meeting, hosted by Andrew Baillie at Carstairs Mains in South Lanarkshire.

Mr Baillie’s sheep enterprise is based on 450 breeding ewes of which 150 are pedigree - 100 Beltex and 50 Texel, plus 50 which produce cross-bred tups, with the remainder being commercials. After seeing the benefits of rotationally grazing his cattle earlier in the year, Mr Baillie was keen to see if the system could also boost his sheep production levels.

Additional enterprises at Carstairs Mains, one of the Scotland-wide network of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) monitor farms, include a suckler herd, beef and dairy bull finishing and over 200 acres of crops.

Several years prior to purchasing Carstairs Mains in 2010, Mr Baillie had spent a year working in New Zealand, where he gained hands on experience of rotational paddock grazing sheep, fuelling his enthusiasm to introduce the technique to his own farm.

At the meeting the community group viewed 230 tupped commercial ewes which had been rotationally paddock grazed for the previous four weeks. On the day the ewes were in a 22 acre field, divided into ten paddocks, which they had entered a few days before. They were grazing their second two acre paddock, with a planned move to fresh grazing every two days.

Mr Baillie explained: “These ewes started rotationally grazing a 16 acre field, divided into six paddocks, on 19th November, in their third tupping cycle. They were being moved onto fresh grazing every four days. The bunch started as 260 females, but after tupping, we took out ten hoggs and 20 of the older and leaner ewes, and put them with the un-tupped hoggs on the kale.”

Mr Baillie plans to rotationally paddock graze the 230 ewes until mid-January.

He added: “We have a ‘Plan B’, if the weather turns horrible, they’ll be turned onto some well sheltered stubble land and fed silage.” Good quality silage was made at Carstairs Mains in 2014, with the first cut analysing 11.8 for ME.

Rhidian Jones, a Beef and Sheep Specialist with SAC Consulting, a division of SRUC, Scotland’s Rural College, outlined some of the basic principles for successful rotational grazing.

“Firstly, assess the quantity and quality of available grass, then calculate how much feed the stock need.

“The amount of kilos of Dry Matter per hectare in the grazing should be measured in a variety of locations, to provide an accurate figure for the area. You don’t want the sheep to graze out the entire sward, so deduct between 1,000 and 1,200 kilos of Dry Matter per hectare, to give you the amount of available feed.

“For maintenance, a 60 to 70 kilo ewe needs one kilo per day of Dry Matter, but during tupping, to help ensure a decent lamb crop, don’t ask her to graze down too tightly. After scanning her requirement increases to 1.5 kilos a day. So in simple terms, a flock of 1,000 paddock grazed ewes need a total of 1,000 kgs of Dry Matter per day, increasing to 1,500 kgs per day post scanning.

“In early winter, it’s worth taking the opportunity to clean out dead grass by grazing a little tighter at a time when the ewe’s requirement is less.”

Referring to Mr Baillie’s meaty continental type ewes, Mr Jones added: “The Carstairs Mains ewes weigh an average of around 80 kilos, so their daily Dry Matter requirements will be slightly higher.”

Looking at 230 ewes on two acres, there are some advantages and disadvantages of heavy stocking rates. Mr Jones explained: “Grass utilisation is better if stock are moved frequently, the longer they stay on a paddock, the more they can poach the ground and waste grass.

“Also, the concentration of dung and urine on a small area encourages grass re-growth.”

He added: “Really old permanent pasture seems to benefit from rotational paddock grazing. Set stocking punishes the more productive grasses, as their re-growth is grazed off as soon as it appears. But by rotating stock round, the more productive grasses get the chance to rest and recover.”

During the meeting, the group also visited the first paddocks which had been rotationally grazed from the middle of November.

“The sheep entered each paddock at around 1,600 to 1,700 kilos of dry matter per hectare and were moved on after four days, once they’d grazed down to around 1,200 kilos,” explained Mr Baillie.

“Yet now, after three weeks, despite the time of year, the grass has greened up and there’s between 200 and 300 kgs of dry matter per hectare of re-growth on the first paddocks. This field will be left until ewes and lambs are turned on in the spring, when it should provide really good grazing.

“I realise I’ve already made a mistake. The ewes are currently on the wetter of the two fields going into the worst of the winter weather. In hindsight I should have put them on the wetter field first and moved them to the dryer field in mid-December. Next year!”

Earlier in 2014, Mr Baillie had fenced 16 acres of grazing into four paddocks, to rotationally graze cows and calves at a stocking rate of one and a half cow, plus calves, per acre.

“The cattle clearly did well on this system, and we plan to repeat it in 2015,” commented Mr Baillie. “At housing, the weaned bull calves were 40 kgs heavier than they were in 2013. And while the weather was certainly better in 2014, I am convinced that the rotational grazing definitely contributed to the improved calf performance.”

Sign up for the latest news and views