Gearing up for grazing: What should I do?

Every blade of grass that an animal eats represents a saving on winter feed costs and will have a positive impact on its liveweight gain. Grazed grass is the cheapest feed and suckler beef farmers must maximise the length of the grazing system.

Speaking at a beef event in Co. Kilkenny on Tuesday night (January 15), Teagasc’s Catherine Egain explained the importance of grass in beef animals’ diets.

“Grass is five times cheaper than meal and three times cheaper than silage; the aim is to reduce the housing period as much as possible.

“At the minute, the national average days at grass is 220 days, but we need to target this to 280-300 days weather depending and land type,” she explained.

Catherine also highlighted that for every additional tonne of grass eaten per hectare, profits on beef farms will increase by €105/ha.

This €105 profit is achieved by: increasing the amount of grass utilised; increasing the number of grazings that are achieved; and increasing the amount of nitrogen (N) that is efficiently utilised on the farm. 

In addition, the national average beef farmer is grazing each paddock five times/year. However, the target is 10t of dry matter (DM)/ha and 10 grazings/paddock. There is huge scope to increase the number of grazings per paddock on beef farms, Catherine said.

Maximising beef output from grass:
  • Soil fertility – pH of 6.3 and index 3 for phosphorus (P) and potassium (K);
  • Grazing swards at 8-10cm;
  • Grazing infrastructure;
  • Reseeding.

Continuing, she said: “The aim should be to eat in three days and grow in three weeks and only once the other pillars are adhered to should a farmer go about reseeding. Reseeding can achieve increases of up to 3t of DM/ha in comparison to older swards and increase N efficiency.”

Also Read: What size should my paddocks be and how many do I need?

Gearing up for grazing

Planned grazing is important and farmers – where possible – should allocate grass on the drier parts of the farm. Some farmers have already got lighter cattle out to grass in parts of the country.

Spreading urea early in spring (weather permitting) will not only increase grass growth, but will also improve the quality of the sward and help the pasture to recover after the first grazing.

For starters, farmers should outline a fertiliser and slurry plan. Walking the farm is also advisable. Now that the organic and chemical fertiliser bans have lifted, spreading urea and slurry can take place weather permitting.

As a rule of thumb, soil temperatures need to be approximately 5.5°C and they are currently at 7-10°C, according to Teagasc.

However, colder weather is forecast later this week so farmers need to be mindful of temperatures dropping when it comes to urea application. Having the urea in the yard ready to go is advisable when conditions are favourable.

Some farmers may be experiencing a fodder deficit, so early N should be spread to increase grass supply on these farms.

According to Teagasc, slurry needs to be prioritised for low covers and low phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) soil. When conditions allow, 2,500/3,000 gallons of slurry per acre should be spread on lighter swards.

slurry rain met eireann
Image source: Adrian Leech

In addition, half a bag of urea should be spread on the remaining covers – weather depending. This urea will remain in the soil and is more stable than calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) during the early spring period.

Research from Teagasc and PastureBase Ireland has shown that the average response to N in the spring is 10kg of grass dry matter (DM) for every 1kg of N spread. Furthermore, spring grass is worth €0.16/kg and – at current fertiliser prices – urea is costing €0.80/kg.