Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Keep pre-grazing covers low to retain good pasture usage

LISTEN IN: Teagasc Grange's Mark McGee talks farmers through a part of the beef suckler seminar in Grange, Co Meath.
LISTEN IN: Teagasc Grange's Mark McGee talks farmers through a part of the beef suckler seminar in Grange, Co Meath.

This week there has been a hive of activity in fields and on roads with mowers, silage harvesters, balers and hayturners flying around the country, busily getting hay and silage saved.

What a difference a year makes with sunny, dry weather to date making the task a whole lot easier than in recent years. While yields have been disappointing but not unexpected, indications are that quality of the silage and hay being made is good. From grass samples tested this year, sugar contents seem to be running at 2-5pc sugars, with 3.5pc and 5pc being common. This reflects the dry, sunny weather we have enjoyed during the past four to six weeks and the moderate grass growth rates. Last year, and in the previous year, the corresponding sugar values frequently ran at 1-2pc.

On average, you need about 3pc sugars to be reasonably sure that silage preservation will be good. So the general expectation is that silages made during the past few weeks, or during the coming week, should preserve quite well. This will provide a base winter feed stock for the high priority groups of livestock for the winter.

Lower first-cut yields may result in a requirement for a second cut to ensure adequate supplies for next winter. Assess available feed requirements and plan for a second cut if necessary.

At the open day in Grange last week a lot of the emphasis was on maximising grazed grass in the diet of both the cow and its offspring. Adult suckler cows will get no meals during their lifetime on this unit. The meal input, which is low compared to what is being used on most suckler farms, will be used just to finish the bulls and the heifers, with maiden calving heifers getting a small bit.

The grass budgeting exhibit led by Pearse Kelly, Adrian van Bysterveldt and Teagasc business and technology advisers was one of the highlights of what was a successful day.

The key message was not to allow pre-grazing covers to increase to a point where pasture usage is poor, resulting in less leaf and more stem in the sward. This reduces sward digestibility, which leads to lower animal performance.

Apart from wasting a valuable feed resource, it has a negative impact on subsequent grass growth, pasture quality and animal performance. Grass should be able to support live weight gains of more than 1kg/day from mid-summer to autumn. But this is often not achieved, with many farmers seeing weight gains of around 0.5kg/hd/day. This loss of performance can be avoided by better grassland management.

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Having white clover in the sward can boost production. Grazing studies have shown that weight gain can increase by 5pc by having white clover in the mix.

Clover comes into its own at this time of the year. Swards that appeared to have small quantities in the spring can have up to 50pc clover in the July and August period as the clover plant is growing at its maximum at this time of the year.

An opportunity may exist for you to establish more clover in old swards after silage has been cut. There is less competition from the grass after it has been cut, and over-sowing clover into the existing sward can be successful. If you are doing this, it's best not to apply nitrogen and then wait until the clover is established before grazing so as not to allow it to be pulled out of the ground by the grazing animal. The first grazing after over-sowing should be when the sward has produced a complete canopy of leaves.

Irish Independent