Tommy Boland: Grass management is a powerful but undervalued tool in sheep farming
Conditions have improved somewhat at Lyons since my last article. We had received our total average April rainfall by April 12, but experienced more normal rainfall for the final two weeks of the month.
Temperatures were around average for the remainder of April and soil temperature also improved as the month progressed.
Up to the time of writing, May has been favourable for grass growth. Grass growth in the week to May 10th was averaging 104 kg of DM per ha per day.
For a farm stocked at 12 ewes per ha with each ewe rearing 1.75 lambs daily herbage demand is in the region of 50 kg DM per ha, so there is ample opportunity to close up area for silage where these types of growth rates are being achieved. It is important to note that not all fields will grow grass at the same rate.
At the simplest level, the most recently grazed fields/paddocks will grow at a slower rate than those with a higher cover of grass, but where an average growth rate of 80 to 100 kg DM per ha per day is being achieved ample opportunity to close ground for silage exists.
From talking to farmers who are carrying out grass measurement and grass budgeting on sheep farms, they have seen big surpluses develop in the last 10 days and have responded by closing ground for silage.
This is important for a number of reasons, firstly it allows rotation length to be shortened which prevents pre grazing herbage mass from becoming excessive and thus reducing the quality of grass consumed by ewes and lambs and finally it provides important winter fodder stocks on farms.
The assumption underpinning the above advice is that grass measurement and budgeting is taking place. The uptake of the grass measurement and budgeting technologies has been disappointingly low amongst livestock farmers in general and sheep farmers in particular are no exception.