Sheep management: How can I improve grass utilisation on my farm?

Over the next few weeks, it is important that sheep farmers make the most of the grass supplies that are on their farms, as grass growth rates continue to head in the right direction.

The weather over the last few weeks has been quite dry and farmers will be glad to have seen rain falling in the last few days, which will help boost growth rates further.

However, despite the recent dry spell, grass growth were still healthy, with growth rates of up to 60kg DM/ha and higher being reported across the country.

As the weeks progress, the hope is that this will continue to increase. So, as we come to the end of the lambing season for the majority of farms – particularly late-lambing flocks and hill flocks – it is time to start batching ewes and their lambs into large groups to improve grass utilisation on the farm.

After lambing, farmers will often group a small number of ewes and lambs together, which is OK for a short period of time. However, in the long run, this isn’t an efficient way of utilising grass supplies. 

On the other, it is not good practice to let ewes and their lambs out to a large field and let them have the run of the entire area, as this is a poor way of maximising the grass that is present.

Obviously, if fields are small and stocked properly then grass can be utilised fully.

Early-lambing flocks and mid-season flocks will, or should at this stage, have a grazing rotation plan in place and, in some cases, will be well into their second rotation. However, for those flocks playing catch up, it isn’t too late to get back on track.

So, the best way of improving grass utilisation is by splitting fields into smaller areas, with the help of a temporary or permanent fence.

Temporary fencing set up on a sheep farm

Sub-dividing fields into paddocks offer a number of advantages.

These include:

  • Giving ewes and lambs access to leafy grass on a consistent basis, which will improve performance;
  • Helps to improve grass utilisation;
  • It will reduce the residency period and allow for an increased rest period, which will help improve grass growth;
  • Allows farmers to let lambs access leafier grass ahead of the ewes;
  • It helps to graze out paddocks tight, which will also help with grass regrowths.

If farmers do intend to split fields into smaller areas, then it’s important to set up your temporary fence correctly, in order to prevent ewes and their lambs breaking into the next paddock.

So, if the plan is to keep ewes and their lambs in one paddock and not let the lambs graze ahead of them, then you will need to set up three if not four rows of electric fencing to keep them in.

As the lambs get older and become accustomed to the fence, then a row of wire, typically the bottom row, can be removed.

A good power supply will be required in order to keep ewes and their lambs in a paddock and prevent them from breaking out – especially when the lambs are young.

As lambs get older, the amount of grass they will eat will increase, so the importance of giving them access to leafy grass, at this stage of the year, cannot be underestimated.