2013 Scholar, Robert Thornhill - Forages and grazing techniques for sustainable pasture-based farming

2013 Scholar, Robert Thornhill - Forages and grazing techniques for sustainable pasture-based farming

The Trehane Trust is proud to sponsor Robert Thornhill

Report Title       

Forage and grazing techniques for sustainable pasture-based dairying and livestock farming


Robert Thornhill


The Trehane Trust


The sustainability of any business includes the ability to make a profit in order to continue to operate.  As grazed grass is proven to be the cheapest feed for livestock, its inclusion as a cost-effective input for efficient dairy businesses should not be overlooked in a country such as the UK, which has a climate predisposed to the effective growth of grass.  In the UK, ryegrasses have become the mainstay of pasture production both for grazing and cutting.  The ability of perennial ryegrass to recover from animal trampling and machinery traffic is one of its greatest attributes and, together with its good rate of response to artificial nitrogen, makes it the recommended choice for the dairy industry.  Although the continued supply of artificial fertilisers manufactured from finite resources is not going to be an immediate problem, the cost of these products will always remain high.

I wanted to investigate whether the disproportionate interest in, and use of, ryegrasses was fully justified, and whether there were alternative forages that could offer additional benefits for grazing dairy cattle in the UK that would contribute to all the elements that make up sustainability.

In order to find out how farmers successfully implemented the grazing of cattle in conditions that would be considered inappropriate by many people in the UK, my visits to the USA, Canada, the Netherlands, France, New Zealand plus within the UK itself, provided environments both comparable to home and also extremely dissimilar.  I experienced the grazing of pastures containing multiple species of plants to see whether some of their promoted benefits could deliver real improvements to livestock and soil, and therefore ultimately profit.  I was curious to find out whether these diverse pastures could help lengthen the grazing season or offer extra resilience to climatic extremes, and to discover what different skills were required to manage them.

Whatever forage is offered, planned grazing, with a particular emphasis on the rest period of the pasture between grazings, is of paramount importance in order to obtain the best animal performance.  This provides the tools necessary for the grazing manager to make the most cost-effective decisions.  The importance of having a balanced soil in terms of its biological, physical and chemical properties is also often overlooked and underutilised and it offers significant potential to mitigate adverse environmental impacts while, at the same time improving financial efficiencies.

Multi-species pastures can offer additional nutritional benefits above grass-only swards, especially in terms of mineral supply. Their rooting systems are very beneficial to soil structure and health and they have been shown to produce more dry matter than do grass/clover swards in dry conditions.

To view the complete report see : http://www.nuffieldinternational.org/rep_pdf/1408541649Robert-Thornhill-report-2013.pdf