If you work with livestock, you know the value of creating and maintaining high-quality pasture. High quality, nutritious pasture leads to healthier animals. Well managed pasture also sequesters carbon by increasing soil organic matter, which is good for the planet and for your soils.
Soil health is a key consideration. But how to improve it? If you are not in an organic system, a well thought through fertiliser management planis key, you should also look at the diversity of your sward to improve soil health and provide your animals with better nutrition.
This is supported by how you graze your fields. Systems such as rotational or mob grazing where animals are moved frequently and pasture is allowed to rest in between can result in 20% higher grass yields. Sufficient time must be left between grazing periods for maximum productivity. This allows root development which act as feed reserves, allowing continuous growth of grass.
As well as higher yields this can result in increased soil organic matter, leaving a proportion of the grass uneaten but trampled by the animals means that this can be broken down into the soil. Also by not grazing the grass down completely the plants will regrow more quickly meaning that a shorter rest period may be possible.
With fieldmargin you track pasture management by recording and managing the fertiliser inputs used and recording observations and soil or dry-matter test results. You can also record when fields have been grazed, for how long, by how many animals and how long they were left to recover afterwards with our livestock management tools.
Keeping accurate records is important for understanding what management practices are most effective as well as for auditing. Part of our goal is make keeping these records up to date as quick and easy as possible so that you always have the information you need at your fingertips.
This blog covers:
- Recording pasture observations
- Planning and tracking your fertiliser regime
- Improving pasture and animal health through sward diversity
- Tracking hay and silage yields
Recording pasture observations
You can monitor and share pasture health using notes and photographs on fieldmargin. Some of the things you may wish to record include:
- Condition of the sward and species diversity
- Problem areas such as weeds, waterlogging or poaching
- Plate meter readings
- Soil test results
As well as appearing as a marker on the map, you can attach your notes to a field so that you can see them alongside the field’s history of when it was grazed and fertilised.
If you are taking measurements such as plate meter readings or soil tests on a regular basis at the same site you may find that monitoring sites are helpful so that you can plot these readings and see change over time.
Planning a fertiliser regime
The improper application of fertilizer can deplete the soil of precious nutrients. It is important to test soils before planning fertilizer applications so that you know what nutrient deficiencies are present. Ideally get a test that covers micronutrients as well as NPK as often these can be limiting factors which hold plants back or prevent proper nutrient take up. When soil nutrient reserves are very high, additional fertiliser applications may not provide any benefit meaning you will be out of pocket for no gain.
If artificial fertilisers are required, a good approach is often to apply a modest amount of nitrogen fertilizer in the early spring, and then follow up with additional applications in late spring or late summer.
As well as ensuring the growth of plenty of fodder, good soil health is important to ensuring that your livestock have access to the nutrients that they need. Cattle and sheep need magnesium in their diet. A deficiency can cause a condition called hypomagnesemic tetany, or grass staggers. Magnesium deficiency is responsible for 20,000 dairy deaths across the UK annually with the condition being most dangerous in in early spring. If soil analysis reveals that your soil is deficient in nutrients there are various corrective measures available.
How to set up your fertiliser plan in fieldmargin
Get started by making a job on mobile with these 3 steps:
1) Set the job type as fertilizing and add a title
2) Attach the Job to all the fields that this will be applied to
3) Add the inputs and rate that you need for this Job – you can add more than one if needed.
You can also do this on the web app if you prefer
Set a due date for the work and share this job with your team by tagging them in it. When a user is tagged in a job they will receive a notification.
The Job will then become a part of the team’s to-do list Access this by tapping to-do on the bottom menu. You can also view jobs that need to be done for each field by tapping the field.
Make ordering simple – you can view the total amounts of inputs needed for jobs on your farm this season using Farm reports on web.
Track work completion in the field using the mobile app. Each field on a job can be completed separately so that your records are accurate. You can also edit this completed date by simply tapping the completed date information.
Completing work means live updates can be sent to the team and records are instantly updated!
Checking the amount of fertiliser you have used on each field
You can check the amount of fertilizer, manure or any input that has been applied to a field by opening the field and going to the ‘Inputs’ tab. This will show you the total quantity applied and the rate/ha so you can easily keep track of what has been applied. This is important so that you do not accidentally over apply.
By clicking on the drop down tab you can see how many applications have been done. Tap the job to open it up and view details including dates of completion and who did the work.
You can also view a full field history on the web platform by clicking on the field on the map or selecting from the field list.
You can view reports on web and download a farm job summary of all your records to be printed or to do your own analysis.
Increasing sward diversity
A longer term sustainable approach is to increase the amount of species in the sward rather than having a typical ryegrass monoculture.
Legumes such as clover and birds-foot trefoil will fix nitrogen in the soil, reducing the reliance on artificial fertilisers. Deep-rooting varieties, such as sainfoin and lucerne, will improve soil structure and help in dry conditions as they can access water further down in the soil. For magnesium, options include chicory, plantain and ribgrass.
By having a ‘salad bar’ of options animals are able to treat themselves, reducing the need for supplements from boluses or licks. It may even mean a reduction in spending on wormers! Plants such as sainfoin, chicory and birdsfoot trefoil have been found to help reduce worm burden.
And finally, record yields
Yield recording means that you can track performance of different fields and automatically produce graphs. You can set up your output to be anything you want. This can be measured as a count for silage or hay bales or in tonnes if you are producing silage in a clamp. This is also useful to have a record of the nutrients which will have been taken off the field and need to be returned.
Average yield per hectare is automatically calculated per field and across the farm. You can also add multiple harvest jobs with yields if you produce several cuts during the season. Graphs like the one below help to identify your top and bottom performing fields.
To record a yield: set up a Field Job with the type ‘Harvesting’, select the fields that you are harvesting and choose what your output will be, for example bales of hay. When you have harvested a field tap on ‘set yield’ and you will be able to record the total harvested. The app calculates total yield and yield/ha.
Read our step-by-step guide here.
Remember you can share all of this information with any advisors that you have by inviting them to join your farm.
I hope that this has helped you. I am online if you have any questions or you can watch this video demonstration of how to set up a job and use reporting on our YouTube channel.
Field Job inputs and reports are a part of our paid subscription. We offer a 14-day trial of Pro for free with no commitment to purchase (you don’t even have to enter any card details!).