NFU Mutual Smallholding Insurance

Author Topic: Under grazing  (Read 314 times)

Shropshirelass

  • Joined Jul 2012
  • South Shropshire
  • A country lass who loves it all!
Under grazing
« on: January 19, 2020, 11:45:36 pm »
 Now I could be opening a can of worms her but I'm just curios about different peoples opinions on whether it sounds like what I think some of our ground is being under & over grazed at the moment by sheep & cattle we've got a tenant who I don't think he knows that much about farming tbh but I don't really want to interfere he left I'd say around 60-80 ewes & lambs on the land - approx. for 3-5 months on roughly 20 acres across 4 fields sometimes with 5 dexters.

Now he's left all that grass to 5 dexters 1- in calf to me that just seems a little bit much & personally I wouldn't have that many sheep on ground for that long.

Opinions?
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SallyintNorth

  • Joined Feb 2011
  • Cornwall
  • Rarely short of an opinion but I mean well
Re: Under grazing
« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2020, 12:37:33 am »
Headcounts vary enormously according to the time of year, the weather and other conditions.

You would certainly want very few cattle on any ground at this time of year, they are very destructive on wet ground.  They are happiest eating grass that is 2-4" long, and will eat a lot of it!, so at this time of year, when the grass is growing very little if at all, you may very well need as much ground for 5 small cows as happily fed 70 sheep in summer.

I have a field here, quite exposed but well-hedged, about 3.5 acres, which is very comfortable with 22-25 adult sheep and hoggs in an average summer.  In a good growing summer it will need the cattle in now and again to knock back the longer stuff.  In winter it gets very wet, and more than 7 sheep is too many for their comfort.

Defra define "livestock units" to give a comparative measure of grazing pressure.  An average beef cow is 1.0; a  commercial ewe with lambs is 0.15, a hill ewe with lambs is 0.1.  A six month old calf is 0.5, I think.  A Dexter is probably 0.8.  So 5 Dexters would be 4.0, 70 ewes with lambs was 10.5.  40% of the summer grazing pressure in winter is certainly not under-grazing in my book.  If you meant 70 ovines in total, so probably 25 ewes with their lambs, then that was 3.75 livestock units, and the 5 Dexters are pretty much equivalent in terms of grazing pressure.

Grazing animals are happier when allowed to roam, and will much prefer to graze over 20 acres / 5 fields than be herded from small space to small space with no choice about what they eat and when, or where they sleep and shelter.  As smallholders we often have no choice but to manage our ground tightly, but the sheep and cattle wouldn't choose to be managed this way.

There are benefits of mob grazing, of resting pasture, of rotational grazing, but there are many different ways to manage grazing, all with different benefits and limitations.

You might think that keeping ewes and lambs on one good-sized area for 4 months could create a worm burden.  If so, no doubt the farmer has wormed them.  Although it was hardly densely stocked for summer grazing in lush Shropshire!  If it was 70 ewes with their lambs, it is still only 3.5 ewes per acre, which I would say is pretty extensive in those parts.  And if it was 70 total, so 25 ewes with their lambs, then each ewe had 0.8 acres, so I'm not surprised he needed to bring the Dexters in from time to time!  And at such a low stocking rate, there would probably not be much of a worm problem.

With our small holdings, but still needing to separate groups of sheep and species from each other at times, we haven't much choice but to go the small fields, rotate and rest route.  I'm doing that now, in Cornwall, and the sheep are happy enough and are certainly healthy - but in my opinion they were happier living full time pretty much wandering at will, 20-30 ewes on 32 acres of very varied terrain up north than they are ever going to be here, groups of 5-15 moved from 3 acre field to 3 acre field when I say so, most fields with a maximum of two types of ground.  I do sheep follow cattle, ponies follow sheep, and I don't need to worm very much at all - but I didn't need to worm that much up north, either ;)
Don't listen to the money men - they know the price of everything and the value of nothing

Live in a cohousing community with small farm for our own use.  Dairy cow, beef cattle, pigs, sheep for meat and fleece, ducks and hens for eggs, veg and fruit growing

shep53

  • Joined Jan 2011
  • Dumfries & Galloway
Re: Under grazing
« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2020, 10:50:38 am »
Since you say " now he's left all that grass " then he could have even more sheep for the summer and nothing all winter  but it reads like he's deliberately allowed grass to get away so that he has grass for the dexters in winter.   Every field has different grazing potential so the same field in the north may be overstocked at the numbers you mention

 

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