Farm Ireland

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Aim for 10-14 days of grass before stock for best result

Liam Fitzgerald
Liam Fitzgerald

Liam Fitzgerald

On at least two occasions this spring we thought we were out of the winter, only to be knocked back again by a severe cold spell. The fine spell that started last week gives the first real boost to growth and should bring growth rates up to the April average of about 40kg DM/ha/day. This is close to what is called the 'Magic Day' for most drystock farms where grass growth matches herd demand.

Yet, I expect this level of growth will only occur on good land that has a cover of fresh grass, and it will take another week or two for the bare or old pastures, especially where there was decayed stubble, to show vigorous growth.

Furthermore, the Easter weekend and following days brought torrential rain, which has still left ground conditions too soft for grazing on the heavier soils. The rain was particularly heavy across the west and north midlands, with the met stations at Claremorris, Shannon Airport and Ballyhaise receiving their normal April rainfall in the first seven days of the month.

If grass is scarce, the two things you must avoid are wastage and poaching.

If ground conditions are soft, spreading stock out over a bigger area will reduce poaching, or at least slow it down, but it will delay the build up of grass covers. Moving stock on, when the pasture gets soiled, is a solution that could work as a temporary measure where grass is plentiful but will lead to greater shortage where the grass supply is limited. Try to maintain the normal rotation plan.

Getting the best use from the available grass could involve allowing the stock to graze off their daily allowance in 4-5 hours and then removing them to the house or sacrifice area. If cattle are hungry going onto the new paddock they will spend most of the time grazing and less time walking. They do most damage towards the end as the paddock gets bare and the grass becomes soiled.

Where you are rationing grass due to scarcity, you will be allocating the grass in blocks. In that case, square-shaped blocks are better than long, narrow blocks as it has been observed that cattle do less walking along the fence lines in square blocks than long, narrow ones.

Where grass is really scarce, and is the only roughage available, you could allow stock to get half their requirements at grass (about 1pc of their body weight in kg of dry matter) and then feed 2-3kg of meal/day in the house. You could feed a similar amount of meal outdoors if ground conditions are good.

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Growth should increase rapidly over the next few weeks unless we get another cold snap.

In April/May, the recommendation is to have 10-14 days grazing ahead of stock. If it's less than 10 you are heading for a shortage and more than 14, a surplus. High grass cover could happen most readily on the heavy land areas that were too wet to graze before now. If this happens the supply may get out of control.

Walk around all the fields every week to assess the covers. Even if you are not doing regular grass budgeting, your weekly walk through the paddocks will allow you to make an estimate of the grazing days ahead and how these are changing from week to week.

You don't want to be going in to graze grass covers of much above 12cm (5in). At this time of the year you can graze bare -- down to 3.5cm -- without affecting animal performance.

There are two actions that will help to build up grass supply: nitrogen and rotational grazing using a large number of grazing divisions.

Apply the equivalent of a bag of CAN (0.75 bags of urea) after grazing. As already indicated, holding back cattle to normal rotation patterns and supplying additional feed as necessary, allows grass covers to build up.

In addition, having a large number of grazing divisions, while keeping the number of grazing groups to a minimum, gives most rest time for grass to grow within the rotation. In spring, suckler farmers often have a few cows that are at different stages after calving in every field and this delays the build-up in grass cover.

Irish Independent