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February 2021

March is a key turning point in the farming calendar with the first day of spring, lighter nights and the lambing season in full swing. With all this excitement, it is also a time for cattle who have stayed in for the winter months to be turned out into the fields.

With turnout edging closer for most farmers and those permitted with good weather even earlier, poaching can be a cause for concern especially as we head towards the summer months.

During February, I was able to complete some soil sampling out on farm and learn more about poaching from the forage team.

What is poaching?

Poached land

Poaching is compacted land from compression or pockets in the surface caused from livestock traffic, which allow water to lie underneath the surface of the soil. This is usually most common in areas like gateways, feeding areas and water troughs. Poached land destroys the soil, significantly effects grass growth and allows weeds to invade the seedbed.

It is crucial for farmers to get their cattle out to grass to maximise the nutritional benefits of the fresh spring grass whilst also saving on housing costs. It is important to manage your grazing system in order to achieve an efficient and economic feed source that lasts all year.

Ways to avoid poaching

Poaching reduces pasture growth by up to 40% so can have a drastic impact upon your grazing. It is important to note that once land has been damaged by poaching it is more susceptible to occur again in the future.

A detailed management plan will help minimise and prevent poaching. Of course this may need to flex especially if unforeseen weather is forecast.  When the weather is severe poaching can sometimes be unavoidable, however by following some key steps will help to minimise the impact and prevent prolonged or worsening conditions in a field.

Before turning livestock out, it is important to assess the condition of your fields after the winter months. Depending on the conditions you can then plan where the heavier and lighter stock will graze. For example it is a good idea to turn cattle who are heavier traffic, onto fields that have better drainage. Meanwhile lighter livestock such as sheep create less traffic and consequently poaching, therefore less free draining fields are suitable options. If possible try to relocate your high traffic areas such as feeding or entry points around the field to minimise compaction on specific areas.

What to do if the land is already poached

Cows grazing in the spring

If the land is previously damaged or has become damaged since turnout, it is important to fix the compaction within the field to allow good growth fo r the upcoming summer months.

Depending on the level of damage, there are several strategies that might help. Minor damage to the field can often mean the plant will repair itself and the tiller density will return to normal. However, by using a light roller will help level the field and make it easier to measure grass density whilst also allowing for better silage growth. Chain harrowing the field in early spring will help to remove dead plant debris and allow new plants to tiller.

On the other end of the scale, if the damage is severe it would be beneficial to broadcast the seed as soon as the ground firms up, preferably before livestock are put in to graze. A field will return growth with no input, however there will be an influx in grass weeds, which consequently results in a lower nutritional intake for livestock. Reseeding is a great option as it reduces weeds within the sward and promotes a healthier, thicker crop. Additionally by putting livestock into a newly reseeded field encourages quicker germination.

My adventure with ForFarmers continues

I’ve now been at ForFarmers for six months and I’ve learnt so much shadowing experts and learning on the job.

Read more about my adventures including calf weighing, soil sampling and visiting two feed mills.