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Monday 22 October 2018

Waiting for the weather to pick up - Do we need to be patient, or do we need get going?

Spring grazing is all about managing the deficit
Spring grazing is all about managing the deficit

Mary Kinston

Do we need to be patient, or do we need get going?

When it comes to spring grazing and getting fertiliser or slurry out, this question bothers me every year. The only way to answer it is to walk the farm and assess whether it can handle cows and machinery.

As soon as ground conditions are good enough, you need to go on all counts.

Unfortunately, having walked our farm in Kerry I'm once again reminded that we're worlds apart from farms in other parts of the country where they are already up and running on the spring schedule.

We have received over 100ml of rain per month in the last seven months so it's no surprise really that my size 7s make tracks as I squelch along with every footstep. I've learned that patience is a virtue in this position, as there's a significant difference between marking/dirtying the pasture and damage.

Whatever your position, being ready is vital. Spring grazing decisions are all about managing your grass reserve in a period where cow demand significantly outweigh grass growth.

The spring rotation planner is a simple yet most effective tool and should be referred to every spring.

Starting with a 100-day rotation in February and reducing to 20 days by mid-April will see around 25-30pc of the farm grazed by March 1, and 70pc by March 20, with the second rotation starting by the first week of April.

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By following these area targets for grazing - and filling gaps in cow demand with supplement in the form of meal or silage - normal spring conditions should provide adequate regrowth to sustain the commencement of the second rotation of grazing.

Here are a few pointers to use the spring rotation planner effectively when faced with a variable spring conditions. Weekly farm walks will be a necessity from now on to assess changes in average farm cover and grass growth.

Start grazing paddocks with lighter covers of around 500-900kgDM/ha available. This allows you to stock smaller numbers of calved cows on bigger areas, minimising damage while achieving your February grazing targets. It also stimulates increased rates of grass growths as these paddocks generally get growing quicker than grazing heavy covers.

Save your heavy (>1300k gDM/ha) covers for mid-March onwards. You'll need these to meet increasing demand for grass as calved numbers increase.

If the regrowth on grazed paddocks is slower than expected, you may need to slow your rotation plan down until you've seen some level of recovery in regrowth. Spring grazing is all about managing the deficit, so a degree of caution is needed if conditions are going against you. Going gung-ho in early spring will often see you run short and introduce silage in early April when cows need grass the most.

Grass growth rates are reliant on maintaining an adequate level of leaf cover all over the farm, so do not let your area average cover fall below 400kgDM/ha at all costs. If you do, the grass deficit will be bigger and will be prolonged.

Finally, If wet weather persists and grazing is delayed until March 1, I would suggest grazing 30pc of farm by March 15, 65-70pc by March 31 and start your second rotation at around April 12-20 depending previous grass growth.

Mary Kinston is a discussion group facilitator and consultant, and farms with her husband in Co Kerry


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