In her latest column Bess Jowsey stresses the importance of walking your land, even in wet weather, and of having a plan for spring rotation.

I HAD high hopes of convincing a few extra farmers to brave an earlier turnout due to grass availability so it is a real shame the wet conditions have continued.

Depending on the grazing infrastructure, soil type and levels of winter forage remaining the desire to attempt an earlier turnout may be somewhat lessened with the challenging grazing conditions.

Despite this I can’t stress enough how important it is to walk across your farm. Viewing from the fence will not allow you to feel soil conditions.

Walking ten metres in from the gateway nearest the yard is also a poor indication of what is really going on. I have dug holes this spring and in most instances the moisture is in the top few inches with below being relatively dry.

The impact of frequent heavy rain is for water to run off the land rather than soak through. When you walk your farm take a spade and see what is going on with your grassland soils. And take a fresh grass sample for analysis while you are there.

Soil damage is significantly reduced by removing stock from the land as soon as the grass is grazed (on/off grazing). Putting lots of stock onto a small area for a short time causes less long-term damage than small numbers on a large area for an extended period (think of the mess from two horses on a field through winter!).

Use of electric fencing to create temporary tracks to access different areas can help limit significant soil damage from large areas. It’s cheaper to rectify a sacrificial strip if required than repair a whole field.

Grazing early in these conditions requires a plan. Farmers who consistently graze in late February and March will use a spring rotation planner (SRP) as a tool to manage the first rotation.

An SRP helps with rationing the availability of grass until it grows, stimulating growth by grazing off winter stored pasture, and setting up sward quality for subsequent rotations by hitting good residuals. The nature of an SRP creates grazing pressure on a confined area that fits well with the on/off grazing strategy. The long rest period after grazing gives soil and the sward plenty of time to recover and tiller as the growing conditions become more favourable.

Over my ten years in Northern UK I have rarely seen farmers who used the techniques described above damage a sward so badly they’ve needed to reseed. Grass has a remarkable ability to recover from this treatment provided it is given the time to recover.

I will often encourage farmers to take photos of a paddock they think is ruined to track its recovery. Adding to this, if you are measuring regularly you are in a position to see how this paddock performs across the rest of the season in comparison with others; therefore monitoring the longer term impacts of a damaging event.

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

Pictures: Cumbria - some high-quality winter stored pasture and an example of an area that was partitioned off with temporary electric and on/off grazed to protect the soil and sward