Farm Ireland

Sunday 21 January 2018

Grass advice: Give your cattle a spring in their step

Making the most of weight gain from grazed grass is essential for a successful calf to beef system

Excellent management for the first 12 weeks should see calves reach 95-100 kg at weaning
Excellent management for the first 12 weeks should see calves reach 95-100 kg at weaning

Gordon Peppard

The farmers participating in the Teagasc Green Acres calf to beef programme are currently planning their first grazing rotation for 2017. Getting cattle out grazing spring grass early in the season has a number of benefits.

With the extra numbers of cattle coming on stream and the uncertainty over beef price, making the most of weight gain from grazed grass is essential for maintaining a viable calf to beef system. The main benefits of getting cattle out early are:

Reduced feed and labour

The springtime is a very busy time on all beef farms with cows calving and dairy calves being bought in to be reared. All this leads to extra pressure on housing facilities and labour.

If some stock can be let out, this can alleviate these pressures.

There can also be the added benefit of reduced feeding costs, as concentrate use can be eliminated and there is also a saving on silage usage.

Better quality diet

Spring grass will be superior in feeding value to silage. It will have Dry Matter Digestibility's of greater than 80pc with protein contents from 20-30pc.

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Higher live weight gains

Animals at grass will have higher intakes, achieving 1kg of an average daily live weight gain. The performance indoors is most likely to have been closer to 0.6kg per day and can be less in many cases.

Improved health and welfare

Animals outdoors generally have reduced risk of disease as long as they have adequate shelter and have better coats.

Increased sward quality Swards grazed out to 4cm or less in the first rotation produce more and better-quality grass in subsequent rotations, due to lighter getting to the base of the plant promoting tillering and removal of all dead material.


Good grassland management in the springtime will set your farm up for excellent performance and live weight gain from grazed grass for the remainder of the year.

The spring rotation planner is a very useful tool to take the guess work out of grazing management and ensures that your first rotation ends on the target date.

The main aims of the planner are to ensure that all grassland is grazed by mid-April and that the first paddocks grazed have a long enough recovery period to be ready for the start of the second rotation. The target date of mid-April is where growth should equal demand and this is generally around April 10 and April 20 in the south and north of the country respectively.

The spring rotation planner is based on grazing a set area of the farm each week until the entire farm has been grazed.

444 first grazing rotation.PNG

On a dry farm the plan would be to have a first rotation of 50-60 days grazing, starting around mid-February and ending around 10th April.

In heavier/later farms, a 50-day rotation starting slightly later and ending seven to 10 days later should be the target.

By having a long first rotation it allows the first paddocks grazed to have an adequate rest time so that enough regrowth will have grown before the second rotation begins.

On beef farms, a minimum of 20pc of the farm should be grazed before March 1, 65pc by the end of March and the remaining 35pc by April 10.

The following are important elements to consider for a spring rotation plan:

Graze one third of the grazing ground first

This will be the first ground to be grazed in the second rotation and it will need sufficient time to grow enough grass by mid-April. This ground is generally land close to the yard and is dry land.

Graze all the silage ground next

Graze silage ground out tight to avoid a build-up of low digestibility butt coming in, in the silage harvest. This ground should be grazed off by the end of March, ready for slurry and fertiliser, and closed for seven weeks from the 1st April to produce high quality silage from May 20.

Graze the remaining two thirds of the grazing ground

Stock numbers at grass will have increased by now and hopefully the weather will be improving making it easier to graze out higher covers.

Graze the paddocks out as tight as possible.

- Ideally graze down to at least 4cm.

- Use a back fence in poor /wet weather to avoid poaching.

Stick to the target weekly area Do not graze more or less per week

Grazing too slow and not meeting the target areas

- Turn out extra stock earlier than planned

- Graze lighter covers first and then return to heavier covers

Grazing too fast and going ahead of target areas

- Delay turn out of more stock

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- Rehouse some stock

- Feed silage bales at grass or in yard

- Only graze by day; feed stock indoors at night

Be practical

- Weather and ground conditions will determine a lot.

- Conditions may never be 100pc so get some stock out whenever possible.

- Avoid severe poaching as this will have huge effects on the amount of grass grown in subsequent rotations.

- Be wary of letting very young stock out in extremely wet and cold weather unless they have access to shelter.

- Don't let large numbers of stock out on the first day, build up slowly.

- Very often, you will need to graze light covers first to get the area targets met.

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