Preparing stock for the winter and land for the spring – Teagasc

The cold winter chill is coming and many farmers seek to extend the grazing season by feeding concentrates and silage at grass.

However, with the time changing soon, look to the future.

Grassland management now will influence grass supply for early grazing next spring. Fields/paddocks grazed out and closed in late October will have grass available for grazing in late February/early March.

Close paddocks in sequence up to mid/late November. Those closed in November should be available for grazing in late March.

As a general guideline, aim to have all fields/paddocks grazed out and closed by mid-November.

This guideline will vary from farm to farm depending on location, soil type, fertility status, grass availability and stock type. If possible, graze fields down to 4cm while avoiding any poaching. Severe poaching will damage soil structure and restrict grass growth in the coming spring.

Tight grazing of swards now will encourage tillering of grass plants during the winter months. House heaviest stock first e.g. suckler cows, beef cattle.

Lighter stock such as weanlings, light stores can graze out the paddocks. Closing fields nearest to the farmyard first will make this area available to priority stock, e.g. freshly calved cows and calves for early spring grazing.

Consider applying lime this backend while weather and ground conditions allow. Lime will encourage growth in the spring by releasing organic N from the soil; encourage earthworm and microbial activity, releasing soil P for plant growth etc.

Lime should only be applied on the basis of a soil test with recommendations from a Teagasc Advisor or Agricultural Consultant.

Suckler cows and weanlings

By now, most farmers will have weaned their spring-born calves. Continue to feed weanlings for 14 days after weaning.

After this, feed weanlings 1-2kg/head/day depending on grass supply. Maintain thrive in replacement weanling heifers by feeding 2.5kg/head/day of concentrates.

Suckler cows can be dried off and allowed to graze out bare fields or housed depending on grass supply. The important thing to remember is not to let suckler cows loose condition at this time of year.

Any loss of body condition score will impact negatively at breeding time next year. Cows in poor condition may need to be offered 2-3kg/head/day of concentrates at grass.

Grass tetany prevention

Some form of Magnesium supplement (in feed, boluses or mineral licks) should be given until cows are weaned.

The weaning process also causes stress on the cows as well as the calves, so magnesium should be continued for four to five days after weaning until the cows have settled.

Site the licks near where cows converge e.g. near water troughs.

Parasites

All animals need to be treated for parasites such as liver fluke, worms, lice etc at housing. Consult your vet about the most suitable product to use on your herd.

Treat all stock for liver fluke at housing. Dosing may need to be repeated in six to eight weeks time depending on the veterinary product used.

If you have vaccinated calves/weanlings before, consult with your vet to determine if calves/weanlings need to receive a booster vaccine for respiratory disease.

This is important, particularly if there has been a problem on the farm before at housing time.

Before housing, check for damaged slats and replace if necessary. Repair any leaking water pipes and water dispensers.

Ensure a fresh clean water supply is available to all animals. Maintenance tasks such as welding, replacing lighting etc need to be completed before housing any stock.

By Anthony O’Connor, Teagasc Adviser, Galway/Clare Regional Unit.

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