It's time to tailor grazing plans to your lambing targets
After a difficult year for growing grass and the subsequent fodder deficit on a lot of farms, especially in the southern and eastern counties, it is now time to start thinking about next spring's grass.
Ireland has one major competitive advantage when it comes to sheep production and that is our ability to grow grass.
Early spring grass will have a limited amount of energy stored in its root system and therefore growth depends on the amount of green leaf present to capture the energy from the sun.
The more leaf that is present the more energy will be captured and the higher the growth rate will be. This is why fields that are grazed bare throughout the winter are very slow to recover in the spring.
So in order to maximize the amount of grass that is available next spring, a plan should be put in place.
Grazing out fields as bare as possible allows light down to the base of the grass plant and encourages tillering.
It also prevents old grass from decaying over the winter and smothering the grass underneath. In order to give the field a chance to recuperate and produce a crop for grazing next spring, a rest period of at least 120 days is required in the case of a good ryegrass sward. It's even longer for pastures that have less productive grass in them.
The date on which you should start closing off ground is dictated by your lambing date.
In our case, we will have to start closing the last week in October in the fields where 70pc of the ewes will lamb in the first two weeks of lambing.
The minimum amount of area that should be closed 120 days previously is one acre for every seven ewes. So going by this measure, we need to close off about 50 acres by early November.
We will close fields with good shelter and also near the lambing shed.
Once the mating period has been completed there is some benefit in having ewes on a maintenance diet.
During this period most ewes will make do with about 1kg of DM per head per day of autumn grass.
Contrast that with just after lambing when the ewe needs .3kg of top quality feed per day to meet her demands of producing milk.
If ewes are not adequately fed in early lactation, this will have an effect on the lamb thrive and we will need expensive meal to make-up the shortfall.
You can either graze the grass over the winter when the ewe would make-do on lesser rations of hay or silage or you can graze it in spring-time when it is much more valuable in terms of feeding value and a greater effect on animal performance.
Like a candle, you cannot burn it at both ends. I will close off in time and hopefully there will be grass available next spring.
We will move ewes onto fodder-beet tops, forage rape and maybe some grass if we can rent it from cattle farms but that is probably not really an option this year.
So if your ewes are due to start lambing next March then start planning to have some ground ready for closing by early November.
A big help this year should be the extension of the slurry application date to the end of October.
The first few fields that we close off will get what slurry we have left in the tank.
John Large farms at Gortnahoe, Co Tipperary
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