Avoiding early grass deficits this autumn

As the good weather and excellent ground conditions continue, it is easy to forget that autumn is nearing and grass growth rates will soon begin to drop considerably (influenced largely by farm location and weather).

To avoid an early grass deficit, we must have a measured and pro active plan in place to ensure we build up sufficient levels of grass on the grazing platform and youngstock area, the target covers we aim for must be realistic for our own farms specifically. Free draining land can withstand greater grazing pressure when conditions deteriorate, heavier land however will not and so cover/cow should not peak above 450kg/cow at a stocking rate (SR) less than 2.7LU/ha.

This would contrast a peak cover per cow of up to 500kg on dry land for the same SR – pre grazing covers will be high by balance day (when growth meets demand) and grazing management needs to be excellent. On farms were grassland management has been lax and cleanout has not been maintained at 0-100kg/ha, building up grass to 500kg/cow would be extremely foolish owing to the level of waste after cows refuse to clean out clumpy dung pads. These clumps would begin to rot, resulting in bare patches next spring, an ideal home for docks, weed grasses etc and an ideal home for leatherjackets to winter. Farms stocked above 2.7LU/ha should not allow their AFC to build above 1,200kg/ha, as pre grazing covers can then become too high, resulting in lower utilisation and poor regrowths.

Information given in articles/newspapers etc on grassland management have to be general owing to readers from a wide range in farms, soil types and management skills. To identify targets for your grazing platform, look at a research farm of similar soil type/location, (such as Ballyhaise for northern farmers) or a similar type farm in your discussion group. Establish what parameters these farms set relative to average growth rates for the remainder of the year and follow their advice.

Scanning results have been excellent on the majority of farms this year, although the sexed semen trials have been quite varied. Higher calving down rates in February, coupled with expanding herds will result in a much higher feed requirement in early spring next year for many farms – to not have adequate grass (e.g. opening cover of >650kg on farms stocked above 2.5LU/ha) will result in a significant increase in production costs owing to a greater volume of purchased feed – do your budgets now and be pro active. A declining milk price means production costs must decline also – feeding high levels of concentrates in spring (because of poor autumn grass management), when cashflow is tight and milk cheques are small will reduce profit considerably.

Feel free to get in touch if you want to discuss what targets would best suit your farm.

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