As soon as conditions are right, when soil is not waterlogged and heavy rain is not forecast, spreading fertiliser is the number one priority, according to the latest advice from Teagasc. 

“This is because it takes time for fertiliser to work, so it needs to be spread now in order to have grass for the start of April,” it said.

“While there are risks of loss of nitrogen (N) during the spring, there is still a good economic response to spreading N at this time. Research by Teagasc has shown that spreading 48 units of N/acre in the spring produced extra grass at a cost of €90/t DM. This is far cheaper than silage, which costs about €140/t DM, and meal, which costs around €320/t DM.”

According to the latest Teagasc research, it has shown that the best way to spread the 48 units is in two separate applications. “This means spreading a half bag of urea in January/February, and another half bag in March. If you have a very low demand for grass in spring, a half bag in March is adequate.”

It advises to put a grazing plan in place.

“If you managed to get cattle out in the last week of February, there are roughly 40 days until the start of the second rotation, so on a 100-acre farm, an average 2.5 acres needs to be grazed per day. If cattle were turned out for the first week of March, then roughly three acres need to be grazed each day. If you are not hitting these targets, you need to turn out more cattle. If you are grazing more ground than this, you need to slow down by either feeding meal/silage outside, or by bringing some stock back in.”

According to Teagasc, the target should be to graze off at least 50% of the grazing ground before grazing silage ground.

“This will allow grazing ground to recover in time for the second rotation. It will not affect silage yield or quality if harvest date is delayed by 10 days.”

Research at Grange compared the yield and quality of silage where it was grazed in the spring and where it was not grazed. “By delaying the harvest date by 10 days silage ground grazed on March 16 had the same yield and quality as silage that was not grazed in the spring,” Teagasc noted.

The key to managing grazing with poor ground conditions, is to be flexible, it stressed.

“Be prepared to think outside the norm and bring cattle in again, if needs be. Anything that gives you more options will help, such as multiple gaps in fields, strip wire, roadways, etc.”

Have you thought about on/off grazing?

“Many beef farmers will say this is impossible or ‘it’s alright for dairy farmers’, but why not bring cattle off grass if it a downpour starts while they are out? A few hours grazing are far better than none, and you will limit damage to the ground by taking them off while it is wet overhead.”

Teagasc explained further: “Some suckler farmers turn suckler cows out after the school run in the morning and bring them in again before doing the school run in the afternoon. There is no problem getting cows back, as they want to return to the calves.”

In terms of slurry, as always be careful.

“Housing has come under real pressure with some of the wettest weather on record for January and February. It is a reality that a home will have to be found for the extra slurry produced while cattle were kept indoors.”

However, Teagasc advised to try to avoid spreading slurry on heavy covers of grass, unless it is very watery.

“There is a risk that thick slurry will stick to the leaves and will reduce palatability for grazing. Instead, consider applying slurry to the ground immediately after it has been grazed (in the first two weeks of March), so that there is time for it to have soaked in before the second rotation.”

Of key importance is fodder supplies.

“Make sure you have enough fodder to fall back on if animals can’t get out grazing, or in case weather means animals have to be rehoused,” it advised.

“Ideally, you would like to have a month’s feeding in reserve. If this is not the case, consider your options now by either purchasing extra silage now, or by stretching out existing supplies by restricting silage and feeding extra meal. (Two kgs on top of allowances given below will save 30-40% on silage demand).”

It stressed access to the silage must be restricted for this to work.

“Feeding space is important if access to silage is being restricted. Check the value of feeds with your local Teagasc adviser, before purchase. This is particularly important for forages and wet feeds.”

In terms of first calvers, it said: “These animals are your number one priority. They are still growing and will need to get back in calf. All first calvers should get 1-2kg meal pre-turnout, regardless of silage quality.”

With calved suckler cows, it advised: ” Turn calved cows out as soon as possible. If you can’t turn them out, they need to get 2kg meal along with ad lib silage. The only scenario where you can get away without feeding meals to these cows is where you have good quality silage, cows are in good order and are getting out to grass within a month of calving.”

And with cows that haven’t calved yet, it said: ” Avoid making big changes to their feeding in the three weeks pre-calving. This year, most silage is good enough to maintain a dry cow. If silage is very poor, she will need 2kg meal/day. Don’t forget to feed a good pre-calver mineral.”

With weanlings/stores, it advised farmers that they should take meal out of weanling/store diets pre-turnout to maximise compensatory growth (unless silage quality is very poor or silage is running out).

Fertiliser spreading on grassland. Photo O’Gorman Photography