Topping benefits go way beyond improving your pasture quality
It doesn't matter how good you think your grass management skills are; topping is a job that will always improve your grazing paddocks at this time of year.
Even the tightest grazing regime will leave parts of a field with untouched grass. The reasons for this can be numerous; cow dung, unpalatable grasses or under-stocking of cattle in the field.
Cows are picky beasts by nature, much more so than sheep, and unless you are mixed grazing then there will always be some tall, unpalatable tufts of grass left after a rotation.
Regardless of the cause, by topping as soon as the cows have moved on you can speed up the regrowth time and therefore the time it takes to return to that particular paddock.
The main objective of topping at this time of year is to cut back rejected tufts of grass that are becoming stemmy and are rejected by the stock for whatever reason. Don't think of it as "wasting" grass – the new growth will be of higher quality and will be much more palatable to stock.
Another reason for topping is to avoid forcing the cattle to graze the grass too tightly.
Past Teagasc trials have shown that a point of diminishing returns is reached when you graze below 5cm.
You can also increase your clover content by topping regularly between May and July, a step which will indirectly increase nitrogen uptake through fixation.
In case those reasons aren't enough to convince you, topping has been proven to reduce the incidence of weeds like thistles. With regular topping, each regrowth of thistles will be weaker and weaker, leading to a situation where they are controlled rather than eradicated.
The debate continues on the best type of topper – the disc-type machine or the flail-type.
What we do know is that Teagasc research has indicated that a clean, sharp cut at about 5cm is the best way to encourage regrowth. While this has led a lot of people to switch over to the disc-type machine that is more readily associated with cutting silage, a number of Irish manufacturers continue to make flail-type machines.
Prices start from about €2,500 for your entry-level model. For both systems, a key factor to watch is the sharpness of the blades or knives. Dull blades are the worst enemy for good regrowth because they tend to rip the grass apart rather than cut it cleanly. Maintenance is the key.
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