It’s no secret that grass supplies are getting tight around the country with plenty of farmers beginning to get anxious about what the next move is.
While the sun is shining inbetween the hail showers, the cold northerly winds and frosty mornings are slow to move away and the true spring growth is yet to strike.
Growth rates for the past number of weeks have hovered in general at 45-55kg DM/day, according to Teagasc.
Therefore the right steps need to be made now to ensure that the grazing season later on in the year will be minorly impacted.
To assist farmers on this management, Alan Dillion, who is a beef specialist with Teagasc has clarified the following four tips that farmers can follow to aid a grass shortage during the month of May.
Apply adequate fertilser
The first of Alan’s tips is to ensure that swards are adequately fertilized.
The level to which a sward is fertilized will depend on current levels of soil fertility and overall farm stocking rate. However, if the farm is short of grass now, applying 25-30 units/acre of nitrogen as part of a compound or in the form of protected urea will give an economic response and will help maintain sward quality.
Applying nitrogen to reseeded swards will result in the best response and these should be targeted first.
The second of Alan’s tips incudes the buffer feeding of silage in paddocks.
Remising back to the spring of 2018, Alan highlighted that we are in a much better situation this year than 2018 – as ground conditions are good and no damage is being done.
This gives farmers an opportunity to buffer feed silage in fields to slow down the rotation and keep up average farm cover. Paddocks can be grazed out tight before stock are moved on and this will allow good quality grass to regrow.
It’s important to move stock on regularly with strip wires and not to allow cattle to stand on ground too long thus grazing below 3cm which will hit regrowth.
Commenting further on this option Alan stated that this is more suited to yearlings and forward stores or autumn calving cows where calves can be allowed to graze ahead. Changing of diet in spring calving suckler cows in the start of their breeding season or maiden heifers may upset their energy balance and hit conception rates.
Housing for short periods may also be an option for the same categories of stock if the weather becomes very wet to avoid poaching ground.
Moving onto the third tip, Alan stated that feeding meal at grass to some categories of stock is also an option.
Spring grass is the ideal feed in terms of energy and protein intake along with being low cost. Although if grass is in short supply, Alan advised farmers to pose the question if some categories of stock that may require concentrates to be introduced.
Two-year-old steers or heifers targeted for slaughter in June could be the ideal type of stock. Feeding them 4-5 kg of meal at grass will reduce demand and also help increase fat score in the run up to slaughter.
He also stated that beef prices are good at the minute and supplies look to stay tight so having a group of stock ready to kill in late May or early June could pay off this year.
Moving into graze silage ground
The fourth and final option provided is to graze silage ground. Ideally this should be a last resort at this time of year.
For farmers with a target harvest date of the last week of May, crops will be growing well even in cool conditions with high covers of grass developed at this stage. Fertilizer will presumably be out for around 30 days or more at this stage so ideally these crops should be allowed to grow on until harvest time in a few weeks.
Harvesting early as planned will not only ensure high quality feed for the winter ahead but also allow the sward back into the rotation by late June when grass demand may be higher on some farms.
Take action now
Concluding his advice, Alan stated that if you see a big grass shortage emerging, it is best to take action now to avoid any upset in diet especially in breeding stock.
Higher stocked farms are obviously more likely to be short of grass due to higher daily demand but many lighter stocked farms which typically use lower levels of fertilizer may be heading into a shortage also.
When the weather does turn in the favour of grass growth, Alan mentioned how a shortage can turn into surplus very quickly at this time of year.