An assessment of grass growth is now vital
As the first spring calves hit the ground, many farmers have taken the opportunity to do a farm walk and assess the feed situation in the paddocks. This is one of the most important tasks that a farmer must do before calving gets into full swing.
It allows you to determine your average pasture cover and make any necessary adjustments to your spring feed budget in terms of the level of supplementary feeding required -- and your spring rotation plan as described last week.
Grass is an essential part of the feed supply throughout the spring if you are attempting to maximise profitability, yet it must be used strategically and with a planned approach.
It is unlikely, however, that doing the farm walk will put you in a positive frame of mind. The return of the bitterly cold weather this winter saw some of the lowest temperatures ever recorded in Ireland last month. Along with heavy snowfalls, this resulted in pasture covers being lower than desired. Many paddocks have actually lost pasture cover during the winter and some paddocks are also showing significant signs of winter damage.
These are the consequences of 'winter burn'. This is the desiccation of leaves and tillers, where the tissues dry out, shrivel and become yellow-brown in colour.
The extent to the damage can range from the leaf tips only, which is apparent on covers of less than 1,000kg DM/ha, to virtually all of the plant's above-surface vegetation. The latter is more extreme but evident in places where paddocks had a closing cover of 1,500kg DM/ha or more, or for proud patches around dung pats where paddocks weren't cleaned out.
Luckily, due to the physiological nature of the grass plant, most of the growing points are at, or just below, the soil surface, so, generally, grass tillers will usually survive. Initial growth will often be slower than from non-winter burnt material, but spring production potential may not be markedly affected. However, complete winter kill of grass tillers and roots can occur, with areas of dead grass and bare patches of soil becoming apparent as spring progresses. Where this is obvious, surviving tillers will often be thinned out and plant growth vigour reduced.