Keep pre-grazing covers low to retain good pasture usage
This week there has been a hive of activity in fields and on roads with mowers, silage harvesters, balers and hayturners flying around the country, busily getting hay and silage saved.
What a difference a year makes with sunny, dry weather to date making the task a whole lot easier than in recent years. While yields have been disappointing but not unexpected, indications are that quality of the silage and hay being made is good. From grass samples tested this year, sugar contents seem to be running at 2-5pc sugars, with 3.5pc and 5pc being common. This reflects the dry, sunny weather we have enjoyed during the past four to six weeks and the moderate grass growth rates. Last year, and in the previous year, the corresponding sugar values frequently ran at 1-2pc.
On average, you need about 3pc sugars to be reasonably sure that silage preservation will be good. So the general expectation is that silages made during the past few weeks, or during the coming week, should preserve quite well. This will provide a base winter feed stock for the high priority groups of livestock for the winter.
Lower first-cut yields may result in a requirement for a second cut to ensure adequate supplies for next winter. Assess available feed requirements and plan for a second cut if necessary.
At the open day in Grange last week a lot of the emphasis was on maximising grazed grass in the diet of both the cow and its offspring. Adult suckler cows will get no meals during their lifetime on this unit. The meal input, which is low compared to what is being used on most suckler farms, will be used just to finish the bulls and the heifers, with maiden calving heifers getting a small bit.
The grass budgeting exhibit led by Pearse Kelly, Adrian van Bysterveldt and Teagasc business and technology advisers was one of the highlights of what was a successful day.
The key message was not to allow pre-grazing covers to increase to a point where pasture usage is poor, resulting in less leaf and more stem in the sward. This reduces sward digestibility, which leads to lower animal performance.
Apart from wasting a valuable feed resource, it has a negative impact on subsequent grass growth, pasture quality and animal performance. Grass should be able to support live weight gains of more than 1kg/day from mid-summer to autumn. But this is often not achieved, with many farmers seeing weight gains of around 0.5kg/hd/day. This loss of performance can be avoided by better grassland management.