‘Early grazing is important in beef herds, but it’s not for the faint hearted’

Early grazing on beef farms is not for the faint hearted, according to Adam Woods, Co-ordinator of the Teagasc Derrypatrick herd in Grange.

Woods spoke at a recent farm walk, where he said that spring grazing is probably more important on beef than dairy farms, due to the lower margins associated with suckler-to-beef production systems.

One of the aims of the Derrypatrick herd was to push the boundaries on the amount of grass that a beef herd can utilises during the shoulders of the year, he said.

Last year, the Derrypatrick herd grew 13-14t of grass/ha. This is twice the amount of the average beef farm in Ireland.

However, spring grazing is not easy and careful attention must be paid to ensure that the cattle do not cause any damage during wet weather or when soil conditions are difficult.

To avoid damage, Woods said light heifers were first turned out to grass on February 24, while cows and calves will be turned out once conditions improve and calves become a little hardier.

But, it is important that paddocks are not damaged, as damage caused by poaching may have a negative impact on the grass produced from the paddock later in the year.

The Derrypatrick herd was housed four times between turnout and May 18 last year, he said.

The Teagasc representative also said that they may start on-off grazing on the farm this spring to make the best use and to limit the amount of grass wasted.

Spring grazing and grass quality

Woods also said that early spring grazing is all about setting up the farm for grass production during the rest of the year.

“We need to hit the ground running as their is a high demand for grass due to the high stocking rate. We aim to have 40% of the farm grazed by March 17.”

He also said that they plan to finish the first rotation by April 12, which allows for all covers to be grazed which encourages grass to grow again.

The first six weeks are just about setting up grass demand for the rest of the year. It is about ensuring good quality grass for the second and the third rotation.

“At a high stocking rate, if you don’t get your grass right it will have a negative impact on the herd. You may have a high stocking rate and high output but your costs will also be higher.

“The easiest thing a farmer can do is leave the cattle in the shed, but it is important to test the boundaries of grazing with the Derrypatrick herd,” he said.

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Fertiliser plan for spring grazing 

Woods said that early fertiliser applications are necessary due to the high stocking rate (2.7LU/ha) and the tight calving pattern. This causes a huge demand for grass.

All paddocks on the farm will receive an application of urea or slurry in the spring, but this depends on the grass cover on the fields.

Heavy covers will be grazed first before slurry is applied at a rate of 2,500 gallons/ha, while paddocks with light covers received 23 units of urea on February 26.

Paddocks with light covers also received a slurry application of 2,500 gallon/ha on February 27, he said.

However, he said that farmers must remember that the optimum levels of pH, Phosphorous and Potassium are required to grow adequate amounts of grass.

Derrypatrick herd facts:
  • Stocking rate: 2.7LU/ha
  • Started calving: February 14
  • Six-week calving rate: 83%
  • Closing cover: 870kg DM/ha
  • Opening cover: 1,070kg DM/ha
  • Stock turned out: February 24