In her first column of 2020, Bess Jowsey looks at how farmers can achieve early turnout without causing heavy damage to their soil.

BASED on my work with farmers and discussion groups I think it takes at least three to four years of experience to really grasp pasture management properly.

If you’ve been following my columns over the past year, hopefully you’ll have increased your understanding of seasonal pasture management, and maybe you’ve also tried to implement some of the strategies I described and had some success.

This year, via my column, I intend to recap the basic principles and elaborate further on the different seasonal targets and strategies. Please, if there’s any aspect of my advice that you’d like further clarification on in respect of your own situation give me a call.

So far this winter has been relatively warm and wet, and apart from areas that have become water logged you could say it’s been a ‘growy’ winter. For many of my clients the 2020 grazing season will already have begun.

The ability to do this is a direct result of good management last autumn and having the grazing infrastructure to get stock around the farm while protecting the soil from heavy damage.

They challenge themselves to turnout early because they understand the benefits of early grazing.

The value of winter stored pasture is not only high in energy and protein, but also reasonably high in dry matter (by grass standards). That makes it not only a very cheap forage but a highly productive one for our livestock.

So, next time you arrange a silage sample from your clamp, I strongly urge you to take a sward sample from a ryegrass paddock that has a reasonable amount of cover… and prove its value to yourself…

Early grazing stimulates the grass to regrow therefore boosting growth rates before grass really starts to take off. Early grazing also helps you keep on top of grass as is goes from dormancy into the spring flush, something we know happens very quickly and often catches many of us out.

The best piece of advice I can give you is to walk across your fields now.

You may be surprised that some areas of your farm could be grazed a lot earlier than you think, even in the wet conditions.

Take note of parts that have some grass, have reasonable access off a road or track and that are firmer under foot. These would be areas to push the boundaries and graze early after a couple of fine days.

Initially grass may form only part of the diet; often being supplemented by conserved forage or concentrates. Offering stock a fresh area of grass when they have an appetite will encourage them to graze properly and achieve consistent residuals.

Soil damage is significantly reduced by removing stock from the area as soon as the grass is grazed; and counter intuitively also by putting lots of stock onto a confined area for a short period of time (on/off grazing).

* To increase your chances of a successful early turnout get in touch with Bess Jowsey, LIC Pasture to Profit consultant, phone 07717732324, email