Grass growth: Farmers beginning to ‘eat into’ their average farm cover

The reduction in daylight hours coupled with the fall in temperatures has resulted in a significant reduction in grass growth across the country.

In terms of average grass growth rates, PastureBase Ireland figures are showing 16kg DM/ha in Ulster, 25kg DM/ha in Leinster, 21kg DM/ha in Connacht and 25kg DM/ha in Munster.

However, AgriLand is getting reports of grass growth rates as low as 10kg DM/ha in areas.

Thus, farmers have begun to ‘eat into’ their average farm cover (AFC) – as grass growth has fallen below demand on the majority of farms.

For many this marks the end of the grazing season, while others have already fully housed due to the poor ground conditions.

Knowing when to stop grazing in the autumn is hugely important. If farmers continue to graze on – without assessing where they are in terms of their AFC – they are putting themselves at risk of not having an adequate amount of grass next spring.

Having a sufficient amount of grass available in the spring is important for a number of reasons: it reduces the spring workload; spring grass has a higher feed value than autumn grass; it saves on costs; and it results in better animal performance.

Getting out now and assessing your AFC will help you to determine when the right time to house is; although take into consideration that the weather can throw a spanner in the works.

Target closing covers – recommended by Teagasc:
  • 2.5 cows/ha: 550kg DM/ha – 600kg DM/ha;
  • Three cows/ha: 600kg DM/ha – 650kg DM/ha;
  • 3.5 cows/ha: 700kg DM/ha – 750kg DM/ha.

However, these targets are just guidelines. Many farmers choose to close at a lower cover in November, with the expectation that the AFC will catch up by December 1.

Also, some farmers which are higher stocked and have a compact calving pattern will close with at a higher AFC – because the demand for grass will be greater next spring.

Others choose to close at a lower cover, based on what they expect growth rates to be over the winter – as some areas experience higher growth rates over the winter than others.