Cows grazing long grass

Dairy farmers in the south west of England are exploring whether they can improve soil whilst maintaining forage quality when adopting longer resting periods after defoliation.

There is an increasing interest in ‘tall grass’ grazing and extended pasture resting periods in grazing rotations to improve soil health, build organic matter and ultimately produce more forage growth. This type of grazing involves high stocking densities, frequent moving of livestock and longer resting periods (similar to ‘mob’, ‘cell’, adaptive multi paddock’ and ‘regenerative’ grazing). It is thought the greater leaf area and thus opportunity for photosynthesis leads to increased root growth and depth, and this root mass helps feed the soil microbes (e.g. bacteria and fungi). Whilst these practices are more common in beef and sheep grazing, there is a concern amongst dairy farmers that they may not meet the higher calorific demand.

The group are looking to fill this knowledge gap by testing how longer resting periods and the length/incorporation of residuals impacts soil health and forage quality over three years, with implications on productivity milk yields.

Where participants are comfortable in achieving sufficient nutritional value to feed the milking cows, they will stock with milking herds on the trial plots. Where they are less sure, they will stock with dry cows or young stock - highlighting that you may be able to achieve the same soil health benefits of tall grass grazing on a dairy farm, even without grazing all fields with lactating dairy cows.

They are being supported by farming advisors and researchers at the Soil Association and Harper Adams University to run this field lab. The group are motivated by the need to minimise feed input costs, increase self-sufficiency in livestock feed and improve soil health (a policy priority in the SFI for 2022).

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Mob grazing is a form of intensive managed grazing where large numbers of animals graze a small area of land for a short period of time. There is increasing interest in this system due to perceived productivity and environmental benefits. However, there is very limited research to quantify the impact of mob grazing systems, and many farmers adopting the system have been influenced by anecdotal evidence from other farmers.

The Farm Carbon Toolkit was created by farmers for farmers. For over a decade, we’ve worked to further the understanding of greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture. We provide tools and services to measure impact and run projects with farmers that inspire action on the ground. Our vision is a farming sector that minimises its carbon emissions and maximises its carbon sequestration, whilst producing quality food and a wide range of public goods, all produced by resilient and profitable farm businesses. Some people call this vision a regenerative farming future.  

Dairy production is a critical component of the agriculture industry focused on the sustainable production of milk and milk-derived products.

Grass in farming is interconnected with livestock systems for their feed, in the form of grazing, haylage and silage, and is also used as 'leys' (short-term grasslands) to regenerate soil structure and quality.

As the population grows, so do our demands on the planet. Managing this resource has never been so important. Since it was founded in 1901, Harper has been designed to meet this challenge. Set on a 494 hectare farm, we are the leading specialist university tackling the future development of our planet's food production, processing, animal sciences, engineering, land management and sustainable business.