Closing grass paddocks early reduces grazing ability

Peak autumn build up is approaching and pre-grazing covers are reaching 2,000kg/ha and above, as a result. Grass at these covers has a good energy content, grazing out to 3.5-4cm is essential if we are to maintain this quality and utilise grass in the final rotation.

Free draining farms in the south of the country will begin closing paddocks between October 1 and October 10 dependent on location and winter growth. For exampl,e farms in Carlow would close up paddocks 5-7 days earlier than similar soil-type farms in Wexford, owing to lower growth rates in October and November than their more southern counterparts.

I usually find that farmers begin closing paddocks later than they should be, especially on free draining soils; were closing up more area in October, reduces their ability to graze into late November and early December. While optimism is to be commended, reality must prevail. Grazing too late in the season can reduce closing cover and increase feed costs in spring.

The Teagasc-recommended closing target of 60% of grazing platform to be grazed within first 30 days of closing is the result of several years’ research on closing covers, winter growth rates and opening covers, as well as grass quality resulting from varying closing/opening covers. The only place this figure would be ‘adjusted’ would be on more northern/heavy farms. In Tyrone, we will begin closing paddocks from September 27 and aim to have 60% grazed by October 15. This sounds excessive, however growth rates decrease dramatically from early October on with us and if we are to achieve target closing cover of 600kg+/ha by mid-November, we need to have sufficient area grazed off early to accumulate cover before growth rates take a nose dive. Autumn grass management and target covers are farm-specific, generalising such information will cost you money.

Autumn rotation planner is a useful tool to monitor area grazed, weekly closing targets vs actual grazed etc. On some programs, when a rotation planner is setup, the grass wedge will begin ‘blacking out’ the paddocks grazed after the date the rotation planner kicks in.

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For example an autumn rotation plan:

When you enter grazing dates for paddocks after closing has begun, paddocks on wedge will turn a different colour to illustrate those closed. Last year I received a phone call from a farmer who thought his wedge had contracted a virus because of the colour change.

As I mentioned recently, follow grass budget closely to ensure supplement is introduced (or taken out) were required, so as to have built up sufficient grass cover.

Remember – it is not the current herd that we are planning this feed for, it is next spring when we have fresh calved cows with high energy demand, or for an autumn calving herd; peak herd demand at turnout.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Mike Tyson

Cathal McAleer is a grassland consultant working with individual farmers and facilitating discussion groups throughout Ireland.

087 160 2491 / 0044 7749 531679 [email protected]

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