‘Livestock farmers should make the most of spring grass’

Livestock farmers should make the most of spring grass by getting stock out to graze where possible, according to CAFRE Beef and Sheep Advisor Darryl Boyd.

Trial work continues to prove the benefits of dividing larger fields – with livestock grazing a selected area for no more than three days. The benefits are due to the grazing of younger, leafier grass, he said.

This on/off approach results in less poaching, if set up and managed correctly. It is important to graze fields and paddocks out in April to ensure quality grass and growth in subsequent grazings.

Recent trials have found that a light or moderate poaching of a perennial ryegrass dominated sward on free-draining soils has no effect on herbage mass at the next grazing. However, severe poaching reduces herbage mass at the next grazing by 30%, Boyd said.

“Cumulative herbage production for the year was unaffected. These swards and soils are resilient to various levels of poaching damage.

“On ‘creeping bent’ dominated swards on poorly-draining soils, poaching damage resulted in a reduction in herbage mass at the next grazing of 21%, 69% and 97% for light, moderate and severe poaching respectively.

“Cumulative herbage production was also reduced by between 14% and 30% for the various levels of poaching damage,” Boyd said.

Boyd added that non-perennial ryegrass swards on wetter soils are not capable of returning to productivity.

Therefore, consider multiple entry points to fields, dedicated tracks and walkways and a ‘sacrifice’ area. Only graze the lightest stock in early spring and minimise damage through an on/off style of grazing.

Boyd advised that freshly-calved cows may need supplementation with magnesium.

“Stress factors such as cold, wet weather or a shortage of grass may trigger grass staggers. Also be aware that fast-growing grasses, well fertilised with potash, can also trigger this condition,” he said.

“Keep a close watch on young calves for scours, pneumonia and joint ill – even at grass, as early detection greatly reduces the effects. Vaccination of calves for clostridial diseases is required as the risk of disease increases as they grow and eat more grass,” he said.