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Can I graze and take hay?
4:37pm Friday 13th April 2012 in Editor's Blog
I’m lucky as I keep my livestock with a friend on 20 acres and we are not overstocked. Every year we use ten acres to take hay. This worked quite well until the dryness of last year when my friend said we should not use the hay field for grazing at all and has now decided we should carry on with this policy. I think this is ridiculous as this meant, again due to the dry conditions last year, we were feeding hay nearly all year round to the others. Looking at our hay field this spring, I think it looks rather straggly and I think grazing, even for a short time would have helped. We get on well normally, my friend and I, but we really do have to sort this one out. My gut feeling is that you are probably more correct than your friend as hay fields all over the UK are commonly grazed from taking the hay until the grazing is going but not gone or the livestock is removed at the latest beginning of November – which ever is the soonest. Having said this I know that people will be writing saying that they have stock in their fields until Christmas or longer or that they don’t graze their hay field at all but I am making a generalisation here. To sum up, a well managed hay field that is still growing well after cutting, can take grazing but don’t overstock and don’t destroy the grass by leaving them in too long and get them out before it gets muddy and they destroy the grass by paddling in mud. BUT – last year in some areas the grass just didn’t come due to the dry weather and for many they could not manage it effectively as it was never really damp enough to use fertiliser. That made the question of grazing more complex. However I would have thought that a month or so with the proviso above about not destroying the sward world have only benefited the grass – if you then harrow the field the manure left by the livestock will also benefit it. I certainly would not want to be feeding hay when there is a field available even if it were for a much shorter time than usual.
You both sound knowledgeable but I will just add that your hay field needs constant management, it needs weed control – not everyone likes to use chemical methods but sometimes they do need consideration if there is a big problem. It needs fertiliser - again there is a wide choice including an organic option and it needs harrowing and rolling.
I’d take a soil sample too to check the composition. The better you manage it, the better established it will be and the more you can expect to get back from it. It’s rather basic just to shut it off every year and do nothing although it may work for you for a few years. Management can (and in my opinion) should be in conjunction with wildlife and there is a lot of information on this both using chemical and organic inputs. You can also consider establishing some wildflowers within the field edges. Do you have a question? email email@example.com and check out the May issue for more questions and answers