Weather improving, time to start grazing!

High rainfall and little or no frosty drying weather over the past eight weeks have frustrated the February grazing plans of the majority of grassland farmers. There are some signals in the weather forecast that the worst may be behind us and a return to more normal February weather may be upon us. It will then be imperative to dust off the Spring Rotation Planner and quickly get caught up to late February targets.

The Spring Rotation Planner (SRP) takes the guesswork out of grass allocation at this time of year. It allocates an increasing area of the farm to be grazed each day until the end of the first rotation. The planner demands that a certain area is grazed each day during this period.

If followed correctly, the SRP guarantees that you will not run out of grass before your planned end of first rotation date. Carefully allocate the prescribed area. If target residual is not met, simply turnout more animals and/or reduce other feed supplements to those that are grazing. If on the other hand, target residuals are being hit, a good stockman will judge whether stock are fully fed or not and adjust numbers and or supplements accordingly.

I prefer to focus on the weekly targets of area to be grazed. Typically, in unsettled weather, it may only be possible to graze four or five days out of seven. Simply increase the areas on the days that you can graze to compensate for the days that you can’t thus ensuring that over the course of the week, the total area required to be grazed, has been grazed.

Talk to your advisor re setting up your own SRP or visit http://www.agresearch.teagasc.ie/moorepark/ or www.agrinet.ie to have a go yourself.

While each rotation planner is farm specific, in general, dry, early farms should be aiming to have 33 per cent of the farm grazed by 1 March. For heavier, later or less developed farms in terms of soil fertility, drainage or reseeding, aim to have 33 per cent grazed by 8 March. As very little grazing has taken place so far this February, what should the approach be from now on if we assume that ground conditions will improve somewhat?

Regardless of weather conditions, the principles of grazing – or opening up – 33 per cent of the farm early in the spring remain the same. That is, a third of the farm is activated, encouraged to tiller and has a lot of time to grow in time for the start of the second rotation in early to mid April.  We must all aim to hit our 33 per cent target.

In most cases this will mean using dry cows and or youngstock in addition to milkers, to create the appropriate grazing pressure to catch up to the rotation planner.

Many farmers are understandably reluctant to offer grass to dry cows or youngstock in February or March, preferring instead to save it all for the milkers. However, they must also understand that by grazing their farms aggressively in February, they will actually grow more grass up to mid-April than if they adopt a more conservative approach.  It is vital to have the entire farm in its optimum growing state for all of April so as cows can be fully fed cheaply off excellent quality grass as they approach mating.

In addition, due to the mild winter, many farms now have heavy grass covers on many paddocks. Due to delayed turnout these swards now contain a lot of dead or decaying grass, To borrow a rugby phrase it is time “to use it or lose it”, hence the necessity for an aggressive approach using dry cows, young stock and so on as outlined.

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