Thursday 29 September 2016

A platform for grazing success

Turning cattle out early can yield big dividends

Published 09/03/2016 | 02:30

Weanling heifers were turned out in Teagasc Grange on February 23. They weigh in at 372kg and gained .61kg/day over the winter months.
Weanling heifers were turned out in Teagasc Grange on February 23. They weigh in at 372kg and gained .61kg/day over the winter months.

Early grazing is not for the "faint hearted" admits the man co-ordinating the research on the Derrypatrick herd at Teagasc's beef centre in Co Meath.

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Flexibility is key to getting as much early and late grazing out of the land as possible to reduce costs in the tight margin business, explained Adam Woods as he contemplated once again returning the batch of weanling heifers to the sheds as the weather turned.

"We try to get grazing in between February 15 and March 15 and try to push it a bit there and from October 15 to November 15.

"We're working to increase the amount of grass in the diet," he said, as farmers attending the spring grazing walk on Teagasc Grange heard that grazing was key with a high stocking rate of 2.7LU/ha.

"We almost have to be better than dairy farmers as the margins are so tight."

Despite the inclement weather, now is the time to draw up a spring rotation planner to try and get the most out of the grass come peak growth in the summer.

Teagasc beef specialist James Keane said there were different types of grassland throughout the country but it is key to put a plan in place.

"When does growth outstrip demand? Most of the time in the midlands it happens around the second week of April - that is a target date for the second rotation," said Mr Keane.

Mr Keane urged farmers to plan ahead and target having 40pc of the farm grazed by St Patrick's Day, where possible, to try and encourage growth.

"Our turnout date was February 23 - we're already behind our targets. We need to have 40pc of our ground grazed by March 17 in order to be fully round it by April 12. On a wetter farm you might push that out," explained Mr Woods.

"We turned out weanling heifers - they're light that's why we put them out first," he said, adding they brought back in animals four times last year until the weather turned.

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"The biggest thing now is trying to get covers grazed off to kickstart them. If we don't go out and graze those paddocks at the minute they'll just sit there and they won't do anything.

"It is a balancing act then to what we do in terms of damaging paddocks and trying to move on a little bit quicker," he said, adding a network of paddocks of about 0.8ha were central to trying to reduce damage at this time of year.

He said the weanlings had done a small bit of damage but it probably looks worse than it is but they may return the weanlings to the sheds for a few days.

Every day that grass can be used in the diet reduces inputs, with costs of 60c a day to deliver a 1kg average daily gain at grass.

"Just look at indoors it costs €1 a day - you are looking at meal, probably 1.5kg of meal, you are looking at silage, maybe €35/t, you are also looking at the slurry in the tank. It is all costs at the end of the day," said Mr Keane.

"The target is 0.6kg average daily gain but not many are hitting those targets.

"Put a fence up with one strip of wire for €1 a metre - it is the cheapest job you'll ever do on the farm," he said.

"We have to start thinking outside of the box and prioritise where we are spending our money on these farms.

Mr Keane urged farmers to split their grazing platform into three sections - with slurry on the low covers, half a bag of urea on light to medium covers and all heavy covers to be grazed off before slurry is spread after grazing.

The plan is to have 60 units of nitrogen spread on the 65ha platform at Grange by April 1.

"Prioritise your stock - it is going to be breeding heifers that you want to grow or is it going to be your weanlings," he said, adding they should be put out onto land with medium covers where possible.

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