Why it's time for beef farmers to start planning for spring grazing requirements

The grassland management calendar should begin in the autumn

The grassland management targets for Ben Sweeney's farm in Enfield, Co Meath include closing 15pc of his fields per week, commencing on October 10. Ben is pictured here with Teagasc Green Acres programme advisor Gordon Peppard. Photo: Gerry Mooney
The grassland management targets for Ben Sweeney's farm in Enfield, Co Meath include closing 15pc of his fields per week, commencing on October 10. Ben is pictured here with Teagasc Green Acres programme advisor Gordon Peppard. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Gordon Peppard

Where does time go? It's hard to believe we are very close to the last one third of the year and the final few weeks of the grazing season.

Wet weather and shorter days in recent weeks have led to a decrease in the feeding value and utilisation of grazed grass.

Now is the ideal time to put a plan in place to have high quality grass available for your stock next spring.

It is impossible to predict what the weather and ground conditions will be like next February and early March for early grazing, but one thing that is certain is that you will have plenty of stock available to take advantage of high quality grass if it is available.

Having this grass available is the responsibility of each individual farmer to ensure that if the weather and ground conditions are favourable early next spring that there is grass there to graze. "It is better to be looking at the grass in the spring rather than looking for it".

As very little growth will occur between November and February, in order for grass to be available for early grazing in February/early March it must be grown this October. For that reason, each year the grassland management calendar starts in the autumn.

The closing date of paddocks and how they are grazed out in the months of October and November will have a direct effect on the amount of grass available on your farm in February and March.

The autumn rotation planner is a key tool used during the last grazing rotation.

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The plan must be to close up a set amount of the farm each week until the whole grazing area is closed and animals housed.

The paddocks to be closed first in the autumn should be the paddocks/fields that will be grazed first in the spring. These fields are generally the driest, most sheltered and closest to the yard.

The autumn grassland planner is based on a 60:40 rule of thumb, where 60pc of the total farm area should be closed by November 7 or one to two weeks earlier on wetter farms.

A consistent amount should be closed each week up to November 7. When calculating your target areas, ensure to include all lands to be grazed in the spring, including silage ground that will be grazed before closing for silage.

Therefore if you start closing ground on the week of October 10, you have four weeks, to achieve your 60pc target, therefore 15pc of ground should be closed each week. The remaining 40pc should be closed from November 7 to housing.

The idea is that when all paddocks are closed by early December that there would be a range of grass covers on the farm from grazed out (4cm) to 8/9cm.

This would give an average farm cover of around 6cm which equates to 500 - 600kgs of dry matter per hectare. This will then be the grass that will be available next spring before the growth starts.

During a recent visit to Green Acres farmer Ben Sweeney, we sat down and completed an autumn rotation plan to identify fields and areas that would be closed to meet these targets.

Including silage ground, Ben has approx 180 acres grassland for grazing next spring.

In order to have 60pc (108 acres) of this grazed by November 7 we broke it down over a four week period. Starting on the week of October 10, Ben will need to close 15pc (27 acres) of his farm each week.

Fields were identified to meet these targets. The house and pylon fields are good dry fields close to the house and yard that could be grazed early next spring. These will be the first closed giving 28 acres. Stock will be asked to graze them out tight to have good quality grass growing from the base.

During the second week, 30 acres of reseeded ground will be tightly grazed off and closed. Again this is solid land close to the yard.

As we move into the second half of October, it is important to get heavier lands grazed out before the real depths of winter set in.

For this reason, Ben has identified the flats and meadow fields as the next paddocks to graze out.

These fields are heavier type soils and if the weather breaks they would become a problem to graze out properly. The paddocks in Donaheely will then be grazed in the first week of November. This is dry ground and is further away from the yard.

The remaining 40pc (72 acres) will be grazed out between November 7 and housing.

Depending on weather a number of animals may have been housed by now and this area can be covered younger lighter stock.

Grazing out paddocks too fast

If you are ahead of the target areas to be grazed, extra stock may need to be housed earlier than was planned or if ground conditions allowed you could offer supplementary feeding at grass. Heavier cattle should be housed first if ground conditions deteriorate.

Grazing out paddocks too slowly

If you are grazing too little area to meet the targets, then the rotation needs to be sped up, this can be done by grazing some of the lighter covers first in order to get the required area grazed off.

Gordon Peppard is programme advisor for the Teagasc Calf to Beef Programme

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