‘Grow grass in three weeks and graze it in three days’ 

Grass is key on the farm of James Grace in Mooncoin, who recently hosted the Irish Grassland Association’s beef open day.

The 53ha farm is divided up into four blocks with seven divisions and James aims to maximise profit by utilising grass to its maximum. Teagasc advisor Austin Flavin said the mantra ‘grow grass in three weeks and graze it in three days’ is key to success on the farm and that grassland management is nearly more important on beef farms than dairy farms.

“At the moment there is 20 days ahead of grass. If James was not measuring he could not know where to move cattle to or when,” said Austin. He went on to say that grass utilisation also allows James to allocated fertiliser as it is needed. “Some 1.5-2t DMD less is produced if soil nutrients are not correct. So, good grass starts with soil analysis.”

The 53ha farm is divided into 43 paddocks, which range in size from 1.5-6 acres. The ideal grass cover for him, he says, is 10cm and he spreads 90 units of N throughout the year.

According to James, the objective of this farm is to maximise profit through milk and grass. This is achieved through measuring grass by using PastureBase and breeding using ICBF. Herdplus provides valuable farm management data on cow performance, he says. This helps the farm identify areas for improvement; cows have an average maternal index of €142 and terminal index of €76.

In order to achieve maximum weight gain from grass, walking the farm weekly to estimate days ahead and produce high quality leafy grass that is highly digestible, high in energy and low in stem. A rotational grazing system is employed to provide a constant supply of grass to grazing animals.

His routine includes walking the farm every week, on Sunday, for 1.5 hours. He spends €3,000-4,000 a year on fertiliser and just 12 tonnes of meal for a 190-head herd. He says grass measuring is vital on the farm as it allows him to plan ahead and know where and when to move cattle. “Walking the farm and measuring the grass in each paddock allows me to calculate how many days I have in front of me. It’s not a major task and 10cm is ideal coverage for me.” The first paddock on the farm closes around October 10 and the first animals are turned out on February 20. His priority stock in February out to grass are heifers, while sucklers cows are kept in longer to avoid poaching.

The beef open day was sponsored by IFAC and Herd Plus.

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