Analyse the growing season - in her latest column Bess Jowsey says December, when most stock is off the land, provides an opportunity to do this work.

DESPITE the amount and severity of rainfall, farmers I am connected with across all regions have continued to graze stock through November.

While it may not be all day, or even every day; provided there is a plan and the desire, grazed grass can form part of livestock diets for at least ten months of the year. And some will increase this to 12 months through the strategic use of outwintering on deferred grass or crop combined with bales.

For most of us, it’s been an exceptionally good growing year, or are we just reflecting on this year compared to the long dry one of 2018? What is average for your farm? And, therefore, what constitutes a ‘good’ year?

Come December, when most stock is off the land, it’s time to analyse the growing season. Good grassland managers will be able to quantify this performance annually in tonnes of dry matter (tDM) grown or utilised per hectare.

They’ll also investigate individual field performance and use this information to plan next year’s crop rotation or reseeding policy. I believe knowing how much grass your farm is capable of growing is intrinsically linked to the long-term viability and profitability of a livestock enterprise.

Across the North grass is the cheapest, easiest, and most abundant crop to grow and harvest.

As livestock farmers are increasingly required to financially stand on their own two feet isn’t it high time we all prioritised pasture in our stock’s food chain? A farmer that knows how much their farm will typically grow in tDM/ha will be able to stock appropriately for this feed supply.

Stocking above this optimal threshold adds a certain level of risk – as this increases exposure to imported feed and its fluctuating price.

With feed costs being one of the largest expenses on farm, a better understanding of the potential of pasture in your farm system is a vital, but replicable, component in lowering production costs – and it may be achieved with a few simple changes.

Other than production costs, profitability is closely linked with farm output. I trust and believe in the value of well managed pasture to provide the vast majority of dietary requirements for ruminant livestock.

I regularly see examples of quality grass being used to rear lamb, beef and dairy young stock to achieve target liveweight gain, as well as produce in excess of 70 per cent milk output.

I also regularly see stocking rates that need to increase to balance with the increasing supply of grass and grass silage once improvements in pasture management are implemented.

Balancing stocking rate with pasture production allows effective grazing pressure and results in higher utilisation of pasture. Arming yourself with the understanding of rotational grazing and seasonal grazing targets can be a powerful tool in remaining profitable in the face of market volatility.

If you are wanting support to analyse your grass management performance please feel free to contact me on 07717732324 or email me on