Business Farming

Thursday 29 September 2016

Sheep: Act now to avoid costly grazing issues next spring

John Large

Published 04/11/2015 | 02:30

Take full advantage by maximising animal performance from grazed grass.
Take full advantage by maximising animal performance from grazed grass.

With the last lot of ewes in-seminated on October 15, we let out the rams to catch any repeat ewes last week. The repeats should start to show signs of heat 17 days after their last cycle. Hopefully we will not have too many ewes repeating.

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All went well at AI with good weather since and plenty of grass. We are optimistic about getting a high conception rate of around 80pc.

At this time of year when you maintain grass, farmers attention turns to next spring. On a sheep farmers diary, enough grass for the ewes with lambs next spring is of the utmost importance.

Due to our geographic location we can grow more grass, in addition being able to extend the grazing season in early spring and late winter. This gives us a major competitive advantage over our European farming colleagues. We should be taking full advantage by maximising animal performance from grazed grass. Grazed grass is the cheapest and most convenient feed available.

So how do we save enough grass in spring. Understanding how the grass plant works is key when planning your grazing programme.

The phrase 'it takes grass to grow grass' is very true. Grass grows by using energy from sunlight which then converts to sugars in the plant. The energy from the sunlight is trapped in the leaves so the more leaf that is present the more the grass will grow in the spring time.

Another thing to remember is that the grass plant needs time to regenerate - about 120 days for ryegrass swards; older swards with less productive grass will take a few weeks longer.

Paddocks should be well grazed out at closure. Leaving heavy covers over the winter period will result in much of the grass dying and rotting leading to bare patches in the spring. It is absolutely essential that once a field is closed up for the winter it remains closed.

Under no circumstances should this ground be re-grazed as this will provide a bigger set-back next spring.

Our ewes will be lambing in early March. Keeping the four-month rule in mind when planning your closing dates is most important. We need to close ground from the first of November onwards. We try to select fields that are dry, have shelter, are near the yard and have a high level of ryegrass in the sward.

We will continue to close fields in rotation and subsequently graze them in the same rotation next spring.

Research shows that fields with high clover levels require light to penetrate to the clover leaves and stolons over the winter months.

These paddocks should be grazed at the end of grazing season so that there isn't heavy covers of grass on the paddock over the winter. For early spring growth, soil needs to be high in Phosphorus (soil P index 3) and not deficient in lime.

Soil samples should be taken so that corrective action can be taken by applying phosphorus with the first nitrogen in spring.

My aim is to have one acre per five ewes closed by late November. Having a planned approach to grazing management will cost you nothing.

When done correctly, it allows you to turn out ewes and lambs into fields that have sufficient grass to meet the ewes needs. Running out of grass next spring will result in delayed lamb drafting, higher feed bills and less profit. To avoid this we must act now.

John Large is a sheep farmer from Co Tipperary

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