'Managing grass growth is the challenge now that the rainy season has arrived'

Young handlers Chloe Hegarty, Shannon Ahern and Josaphine Kelleher from Bandon pictured at Clonakilty Agriculture Show. Photo: Denis Boyle
John Large

John Large

After waiting for the rain to arrive, the big change has obviously been the explosion in grass growth. The trick now is to manage this grass to get the best value from it for the ewes and lambs.

We are often coming out of a period of slow growth.

A month ago there was growth of about 40kg DM per day but this has now shot up to 80kg DM per day. The key priority now is to keep grass cover down and keep things under control.

It is important to walk the farm regularly and know what grass is ahead of you.

Trying to graze all available grass is not an option now so other measures to control grass will have to be used. If you do not, quality will suffer when grass gets too strong - the leaf is the good part of the grass, not the stem.

If you do not keep on top of it, it can be hard to graze swards out and quality will drop maybe not this time but next time you graze it.

The options when grass gets too strong are to take out paddocks for silage bales or graze the paddocks as best as you can and take it out the next time it is due for grazing. This will help to rejig the quality.

Another option if you have dry hoggets or dry ewes is to graze them and then, by using the mower, topping off what stemmy grass they leave.

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Paddock divisions are also a useful tool for grass management. By dividing paddocks and instead of taking six days or more to graze out a paddock, you should get three days of quality grass on each side of the division.

This way animal production is enhanced.

My sheep are getting regular access to good, leafy grass with the grass taken out at the right stage of growth before it goes stemmy and starts to go to seed.

The paddocks we took out for silage in early May have been grazed once since and next time will be used for lambs after weaning. We made more bales on May 20 - this yielded over 12 bales per acre with quality good.


There should be plenty of aftergrass on this ground for the lambs when we wean them the first week in July. We have about 20 acres more to cut now. If we get a few fine days together, we will not hesitate as quality is more important now than quantity.

Next jobs to be done on the farm include shearing the ewes as soon as possible with a few going over on their backs and in this weather fly strike could become a problem.

The sooner the wool is off them the better.

This year it is probably best not to think about the price we will get for the wool.

From reports I have heard it will not cover the cost of shearing.

Lambs have to get a second shot of Heptavac-P, a dose for worms and a spray-on for fly treatment.

Most will get Clik Extra and the heaviest single lambs will get Clikzin, because it has a short withdrawal period. That should keep me busy for a while.

Later this month we're planning to go to Teagasc Athenry for the open day on June 21.

It should be interesting to see the early results from the research trial comparing the performance of high genetic merit New Zealand ewes with the best of the Irish.

I'm sure we will come away with some new ideas on how we can make technical improvements on our farm in terms of breeding, grassland management, animal health and financial management.

John Large is a sheep farmer based in Co Tipperary

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