Now is the time to start putting next spring's grass plan in place

John Large at his farm in mid Tipperary.
John Large at his farm in mid Tipperary.
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John Large

John Large

We are fast approaching that time of year when grass growth starts to slow down. We are trying to build up grass cover for ewes in November and December after mating. This year has been excellent for grass, it is still growing but now is the time to put a grass plan in place.

The main reason is to ensure we have grass next spring for ewes and lambs. What we do over the next month will have a big effect on what grass is available next March. The fields being grazed now by the ewes will get what slurry is left in the tanks, these fields will be grazed again in December.

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One of the biggest issues for a lot of sheep farmers is not having enough grass in spring, to keep ewes from lambing in early March until enough grass is growing to match the ewe demand.

There are a number of factors that influence the availability of grass in Spring. Insufficient area closed in autumn to allow grass to build over the winter. Soil fertility issues, no Nitrogen applied to boost covers and enhance growth in March.

The one I can influence most is closing up ground early in autumn by having more lambs sold earlier and having forage crops to move the remaining lambs onto. This should give us a chance to close up more ground by early November, since grass needs 120 days to rejuvenate and covers to build up over the winter months. I will try to have 20pc closed by late October, 40pc by mid-November, 60pc by late November and 80pc in mid-December when most of the ewes will be housed or moved to some other form of feed.

The most important thing before closing is to make sure and eat out paddocks well as grass left will die off over winter and will have slower growth next spring.

When the paddock is finished grazing, do not be tempted to go back into graze for a few days in late December.

This grass will be worth twice as much to your ewe with lambs next March. If you mind the grass there is a high possibility you will not have to feed meal after turnout next Spring and that is worth a lot in monetary value not to mention less labour required at a time when labour is needed for other jobs.

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For a flock of ewes that lamb the first week of March like ours, we will need a farm cover of somewhere between 600kg to 700kg grass dry matter per hectare or an average sward height of 6cm across the farm, which should be 20-25 days grass available at turnout. If we estimate grass growth rate of 15kg per hectare in early March, this will add another 10 to 15 days, so when we add this to the amount grown over the winter we should have enough to get us to mid-April and hopefully grass will be growing by then at a rate that will satisfy demand. We will spread Nitrogen in early February, weather permitting, to help boost growth.

The breeding season is also fast approaching and we will be inserting sponges into half the ewes on October 2, the rest five days later. This year we are leaving five days between AI to spread out lambing by an extra few days. With a lot of hogget ewes that are lambing for the first time, we may have to give them more time in the individual pens so space could be at a premium.

Labour may not be scarce but could be lacking in experience so a couple of easy days in the middle of lambing might be a help to both man and beast.

We are putting ewes through the foot-bath every couple of weeks. Feet are good and we've just a small group that need special attention. These are improving well. All the ewes got either a mineral dose "Twin Plus" or received a bolus that is made up of Iodine, Cobalt, Zinc and Copper.

This is a slow release which is supposed to work for four months. We have used the "Twin Plus" product from Natural Stockcare for the last number of years and are very pleased with this product. We gave Cobalt B12 to small lambs about three weeks ago and you could see how they picked up after the dose, which shows we are definitely deficit in Cobalt.

Lamb sales are a bit slower this year, probably because we are not feeding meal. Lambs are heavier but not killing out as we would expect. If I could get the pay weight up to 22kg I would not mind having to keep lambs a few extra weeks as we have plenty of grass on the farm.

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