Getting grazing ready…what can I do now?

It is hard to believe that we are already entering another grazing season on farms across the country; it feels like only yesterday the closing cover was carried out and the farm closed up for the winter.

But into another season we go and with that it is time to carry out some pre-grazing preparation.

1. Establish average farm cover

Firstly, over the next couple of weeks farmers should begin assessing their farm’s average farm cover (AFC) and establish what the growth rate is.

Presently, PastureBase Ireland is showing a national AFC of 752kg DM/ha.

On a province-by-province basis, looking at PastureBase Ireland figures, the current grass growth rates are: 5kg DM/ha in Ulster; 4kg DM/ha in Leinster; 4kg DM/ha in Connacht; and 4kg DM/ha in Munster.

2. First paddocks to be grazed

Secondly, it is important that farmers identify which paddocks they intend on grazing first – when calving commences.

Ideally, these paddocks are close to the yard, have good-grazing infrastructure and are between a cover of 700kg DM/ha and 1,000kg DM/ha.

Postpone grazing heavy covers until you have a lot of cows milking and their appetite has improved. Then graze these heavy paddocks when ground conditions allow. This will ensure residuals are met and there is as little grass wasted as possible.

It is also a good idea to decide on which paddocks might be most suitable to graze on a wet day and those more suitable to graze on a dry day.

For instance, paddocks accessible by a good network of roadways and/or with multiple access points might be a more suitable choice on a wet day – to ensure that poaching is avoided.

3. Complete a spring rotation planner

Complete a spring rotation planner (SRP); this will aid you when allocating grass for your cows each day and make sure you don’t end up finishing you first round too soon.

Also Read: Have you completed your spring rotation planner?

If the allocated area is too small for the number of cows, the deficit in their diet should be filled with meal and/or silage. This is critical.

In case the spring-grazing targets might have slipped your mind since last year, these are: 30% by March 1; 65% by March 17; and 100% by early April. These targets are about 10 to 12 days later for heavy/wet farms.

4. Early nitrogen application

The closed period has ended for farmers in Zone A and B allowing farmers in these areas to spread slurry, artificial fertiliser and farmyard manure – when conditions allow. Zone C will end on February 1.

While the appropriate application of early nitrogen (N) is beneficial, Teagasc says the incorrect application of early N is wasteful, costly, pollutes water and increases greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Therefore, before spreading, farmers should take account of the following early N advice: 
  • Only spread when soil temperatures are greater than 5°;
  • Only spread on dry ground with a soil moisture deficit (SMD) greater than 0;
  • Target perennial-ryegrass swards;
  • Use slurry when grass covers are low and protected urea where grass covers are high;
  • A first application of 30kg of N/ha (24 units of N/ac) is sufficient;
  • Never apply fertiliser on waterlogged or frozen soils;
  • Never apply fertiliser into buffer margins and know your buffer margins.

To establish the soil temperature in your area, visit the Met Éireann website. At the moment, soil temperatures seems to be hovering either slightly above or below 5° depending on the area of the country.