Advice: We are hitting the two most important weeks of the year for grass management

Joe Kelleher

Joe Kelleher

"If you think you have enough grass at the start of the second rotation, then you probably have too much grass" is a common quotation from farmers who are seasoned campaigners when it comes to grass measuring.

And "I'd rather be looking at it than for it" is the common retort you get from those who don't measure grass. Which camp are you in?

Quantities of grass on farms are well ahead of where they normally would be for this time of year, which is primarily due to the exceptional grass growth we experienced over the winter months.

Grass growth rates since then have tracked along expected lines with Pasturebase showing national growth rates to be 27kg DM/Ha last week and expected to rise this week.

To those that measure regularly, this is the growth rate they expect. For those that don't measure; "there's no growth at the moment", is the common phrase we hear.

The attached graphic shows that this year's growth has been slightly ahead of the five-year average.

There appears to be a big variation on farms at the moment in terms of average farm covers. Those that left cows out early and followed a spring rotation plan finished their first rotation sometime over the past two weeks.

Those that delayed turnout, have very heavy covers of grass ahead of cows and are struggling to get good clean-outs in paddocks. The first round may not finish for another fortnight or more on many of these farms unless paddocks are skipped.

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The impact of poor graze-outs on paddocks will result in a deterioration of grass quality until well into the summer months.

A paddock that is grazed tightly now (down to 4cm) will have a grass digestibility four units greater than those that are poorly grazed now. This will result in more litres in the bulk tank and a lift in milk solids percentages.

Pre-mowing

Some will argue that pre-mowing will solve the problem, and it will, but an earlier turnout of cows would have been a much cheaper option involving a lot less labour.

Others will argue that topping will remedy the issue, but unfortunately this results in grass being wasted, slower re-growths and again unnecessary labour input.

Tight grazing now, promotes tillering of the ryegrass plant giving a dense cover of grass on the paddock, thus increasing the potential yield of the paddock for the remainder of the year. This also increases the proportion of leaf in the plant and reduces the proportion of stem, thereby increasing the overall feed value.

For those who have finished their first rotation, maintain the average farm cover above 550kg DM/Ha and aim to have 180-200kg DM/cow. Supplement with meal according to these figures.

Spread one unit of nitrogen per day. Aim to enter pre-grazing covers of 1300kg and aim to have 10-14 days grass ahead of the cows. Do a weekly grass cover and reassess the situation on a weekly basis.

For those that commenced grazing later and have 20-30 days grass ahead of the cows, cut 10-20pc of the farm as surplus silage immediately. Reassess the situation again in a week's time.

You may have to cut again depending on growth rates. The challenge here is to attain a staggered wedge and not to have a large portion of the grazing block at the same stage of growth. Aim to get the average farm cover down to 600kg within the next fortnight. Increase the stocking rate and reduce meal to 1-2kgs/cow (while still feeding enough cal-mag to cover tetany).

At a meeting of a grass focused discussion group last week, one member of the group made the comment: "Get the grass right for the next two weeks and you're set up for the year, get it wrong and you'll be months trying to correct it".

Joe Kelleher is a Teagasc advisor based in Newcastle West, Co Limerick

Indo Farming


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