Ten years after I visited farmer/inventor Harry Weir and his techno-grazed Friesian bulls and heifers in New Zealand, I found myself listening to James Daniel on a Cornish beef farm, talking about the techno-grazing trials he is running there.

Techno-grazing is a method of cell grazing, which allows the accurate allocation of grazed pasture to large numbers of animals, which are moved regularly – usually every day or every other day.

This tightly planned rotational grazing system increases the amount of high quality grass that grows. Crucially, it also increases the amount of grass that the animals eat, leaving very little wasted and maximising production per hectare.

Other benefits of the system include increased soil organic matter, better sward composition, sward quality and longer living leys, even manure deposition and an extended grazing season. Longer rotation lengths over 60 days reduce worm infestations, reducing the need for anthelmintics.

This system does require some infrastructure. Semi permanent fences are used to construct lanes, which are then sub-divided into cells as required using temporary electric fencing. Lane fences consist of fiberglass posts and high tensile polywire that has a special spring arrangement, allowing it to be pegged down for stock or the quad bike to travel over it.

Portable water troughs are moved easily between the cells that are connected via hydrants to the water running through 254mm pipes running along the ground next to every second lane.

Three rules
James talks about three rules which have to be followed to make the productivity/ha and quality gains possible:

  1. Grass grows grass. Well managed grass forms dense, clean swards that are resilient to the worst droughts, floods and cold winters
  2. Move stock every one to two days – three maximum. By then all the grass in the cell will have been grazed cleanly and utilisation – the amount actually eaten, will be very high – up to 80 or 90%
  3. There must be an appropriate rest period between grazings to allow the grass above ground and the roots in the soil below the surface, to grow back strong and healthy. The length of rotation differs throughout the year – shorter in spring when grass growth is at its quickest and much longer in hot summers and autumn.

TechnoGrazing enables farmers to follow these three rules with minimal labour.

Cornish trials
This year, supported by an AHDB Beef & Lamb Farm Innovation Grant (FIG) and some EU funding, James has set up three trial systems in Cornwall – to see if they can work here.

Stephen Thorne, who farms at West Panson near Launceston, has set up a 6.4ha temporary ley with four lanes and TechnoGrazed 30-45 homebred black Limousin steers and heifers in 64, 0.01ha cells.

Moving the water trough to the next two days grazing

Moving the water trough to the next two days grazing

He wanted to achieve maximum liveweight/ha, with a normal amount of nitrogen fertiliser but with minimal pugging, no topping and no silage made.

Grass growth is measured with a platemeter once a week and the cattle entered a new cell when there was 3,850kg DM/ha, moving on when there was 1700kg DM/ha. In spring rotation length was 25 days; in summer this stretched to 33 days and in autumn 49 days.

Training the animals to accept the wire before entering the system was very important – carried by erecting an electric fence carrying 5,000 volts, close to the boundary of a permanently fenced field.

Results (To the end of August)

Current system

TechnoGrazing

Grazing days

130

130

Stocking rate (/acre)

1.5

2.7

Almost double

Start liveweight (kg)

292

307

Finishing weight (kg)

409

410

Weight gained (kg)

117

103

Daily Liveweight Gain (kg)

0.9

0.79

Slightly less

Production/ha

433

706

+61%

Sale price (£)

1.80

1.80

Revenue (£)

780.27

1270.80

Extra income/ha
by end of August

490 = 61% more

Stephen had grown more grass and produced more beef from the same area of grass. The capital cost of the fencing materials, installation and water was £3,146, which was paid off after five months of the trial. The animals also stayed out a lot longer than previously, saving £60/day in housing costs – so it is financially worthwhile to take ten minutes to move the fence said Stephen!

Clean, high-quality grass in October

Clean, high-quality grass in October

It also works with sheep!
At Bradstone Manor Farm, Nick Jasper has erected 6,000 metres of three lines of electric fence to form four 2.5ha lanes and one 2ha holding paddock, in one 12 ha field. The aim is to carry as much stock as possible without compromising the state of the field.

Nick Jasper's ewes grazing new pasture

Nick Jasper’s ewes grazing new pasture

The flocks are contained using a back fence, a front fence and a safety break. The sheep are moved every two days. Nick travels across the fences to the new piece of grazing, on his quad bike that has a fender kit on the front, which allows him to ride across the wires, which pop back up again after he has crossed.

The front fence is held down for the sheep to move forward to graze up to the safety break, which then becomes the new front fence. The back fence is gathered quickly and easily by Nick on his bike and replaced as the safety break, ready for the next shift.

This adaptable system allows the grazing area to be made bigger or smaller, depending on the animals’ feeding demand and grass growth.

A single flock of 240 ewes and lambs were introduced to the system, after training, six weeks after lambing.

The ewes and lambs grazed 0.85ha every two days, which enabled a 26-day rotation. Entry target covers were 2,700kg DM/ha with sheep exiting at 1400kg DM/ha.

After weaning, the heaviest 220 male Romney lambs were grazed ahead of 159 dry hoggets for one rotation – which lead to great use of grass without compromising lamb growth rates. The ewes cleaned up what the lambs left leaving a good residual. 240 store lambs were then brought into the system. The average daily liveweight gain has been 0.21kg/day with a total production/ha from 20 May to 31 August of 600kg of liveweight.

Nick has been astonished by the amount of grass that has been grown in the field – growing at 80kg DM/day on average from May to August. He has also relished how easy the system is to run.

“I can pull into the field and travel straight to the stock to do what needs to be done,” he says. “Also every two days I can watch every single animal walk past me across the fence, so it is easy to detect early signs of lameness or mastitis. This saving in my time far outweighs erecting the fences in the first place.”

So it seems that British farmers could be making so much more of their grass if they can get beyond the idea that moving animals and electric fences every day is not a chore, but a valuable livestock management tool.

Nick Jasper shows how easy it is to put up and take down the three lines of sheep fencing

Nick Jasper shows how easy it is to put up and take down the three lines of sheep fencing

Having the right kit is also important – and from November that gets a whole lot easier too!

James has an area on his website www.precisiongrazing.com where Harry Weir’s Kiwitech electric fencing and water systems can be purchased.

Ten years on from my Nuffield travels, it looks like the system may finally be taken seriously in this country.  James Daniel has seen its potential and has set up his new company to support farmers with the designing, planning and running of these systems.

So what are all you beef, sheep and dairy farmers waiting for?

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