What size should my paddocks be and how many do I need?

A paddock system is key to grass growth, quality and utilisation. In Ireland, the national average grass growth on drystock farms stands at 4.5t/ha.

The margins on any drystock system are tight, so implementing a good grassland management plan – in the cheapest and most efficient way – is extremely important.

Grass is the cheapest feed available to suckler cows. Maximising the length of the grazing season and the quality of the sward is extremely important. This is no easy task as weather and underfoot conditions remain tricky.

However, it is next to impossible to manage grass correctly without using paddocks. It is just as applicable to drystock farms as it is to dairy farms.

Speaking at the Irish Grassland Association’s (IGA) grazing infrastructure event earlier today, Teagasc’s Catherine Egan outlined how important paddocks are and what size they need to be.

“The first thing we need is a farm map,” she explained.

Farmers should know how many acres are in each field and, from there, they can decide how many paddocks can be made from each field.

“As a rule of thumb, for a 40-cow suckler herd with calves, paddocks should be 2ha or 5ac in size.

“For 50 yearling heifers, farmers are looking at 1ha (2.5ac) paddocks. The secret is to graze the paddock in three days and grow it in three weeks,” she added.

Catherine also outlined that seven paddocks are needed per grazing group to run a successful grassland management system.

Allowing cows and calves to graze paddocks for a maximum of three days prevents the grazing of regrowths. By the time the grazing rotation ends, the paddock will have been allowed to recover for a total of 21 days.

“If we are working with five paddocks, the animals are rotating much faster. If we are moving animals at a slower pace and we are grazing paddocks for one week, we are reducing the amount of grass produced on the farm,” she explained.

Key points:
  • Aim to grow grass in 21 days and graze out in three days;
  • 40 suckler cows and calves – 2ha paddock size (5ac);
  • 50 yearling heifers – 1ha paddock size (2.5ac);
  • Seven paddocks per grazing group.