Ryegrass maintains a maximum of three live leaves per tiller. Delaying grazing beyond the emergence of the fourth leaf results in a decline in pasture quality, wasted pasture and shading of the lower tillers. Grazing before the 2-3 leaf stage will deplete the plant of its water soluble carbohydrate (WSC) reserves which are replenished only during the growth of leaves 2 and 3, and are essential for emergence of the new leaf following grazing. It will also result in reduced root growth, reduced tillering and make the plant more susceptible to stress.
Animal nutrition is also better at the 2-3 leaf stage. The grass will have a lower ratio of protein to WSC and a lower ratio of potassium to magnesium and calcium.
Grazing at the 2-3 leaf stage will:
• Allow the plant to fully replenish WSC reserves
• Present a more nutritionally balanced forage to the animal
• Reduce wastage, encourage tillering and prolong the life of the ley
Ensuring pasture is grazed to 3.5cm (1500kgDM/ha) will:
• Reduce wastage
• Maintain the quality of the next grazing
• Allow for rapid regrowth, providing the plant was grazed at no less than 2 leaves
Adapting grazing practices to follow the natural growth pattern of ryegrass has enabled many farmers to increase pasture output by up to 30% and improve animal performance from grazing. Applying these principles requires discipline! The animals and their managers will need a change of mindset and a period of retraining!
Contact Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org or your local FCG office for more information, advice on grazing management, and setting up your farm to maximise milk and meat production from pasture this spring.