GrowthWatch: Aim to maximise the use of autumn grass

By Teagasc’s Seán Cummins and James Fitzgerald

With the weather forecast looking relatively good for the time of year and with warm weather aiding ground conditions in many parts of the country, the aim for all areas of the country should be to maximise the use of autumn grass and to continue to graze down to the correct post-grazing heights.

This will benefit your farm for the rest of the grazing season and, in particular, next spring, in improving spring grass quality once the correct decisions are made now.

Provided ground conditions allow, aim to graze down to 4cm on the areas of the farm that are the first to become tricky in challenging weather. This will ensure that a quick and clean grazing can be achieved on the last rotation later in autumn or so that there will be good-quality grass for next spring if no opportunity arises to graze for the rest of the year.

Then when weather conditions deteriorate further – which is inevitable – the dryer parts of your farm will still have grass covers capable of carrying your stock later into the year to shorten the winter housing period.

The closed period for spreading chemical fertiliser is now in effect (September 15), and so no chemical fertiliser containing nitrogen (N) or phosphorus (P) can be spread. Straight potassium (K) fertiliser can continue to be spread throughout the winter as well as lime.

Irvine Allen, Moate, Co. Westmeath:

  • Average farm cover: 883kg DM/ha;
  • Growth: 49kg DM/ha/day;
  • Demand/ha: 15kg DM/ha/day;
  • Stocking rate: 1.83 LU/h.

71 calves are currently grazing the home block, which is being grass measured. They are receiving 1.25kg of meal per head which is a half-and-half mix of rolled barley and a 16% protein nut.

With the warm weather and strong growth rates, these calves will not keep control of this grass on their own going on the Pasturebase Ireland figures. Extra cattle can be moved onto this block to help clean it off in time for closing for spring grass if needed.

The last of the third-cut silage was baled on Sunday last. The grass was baled in good conditions, with an average bale count of five bales/ac. This brings the total bale count to 725 which is where it needs to be to see me through the winter. The first and second cuts were tested for quality lately. The first-cut had a dry matter digestibility (DMD) of 73% and the second-cut had a DMD of 75.4%, which I was very happy with.

The 11ac of redstart that was sown about one month ago is also doing well. One bag/ac of 18-6-12 was spread on the redstart at the start of the week to keep it spurred on. Tilling and seeding the redstart is the expensive part, so I make sure that I get a yield that makes it worthwhile by not skimping on the fertiliser.

Aidan Maguire, Navan, Co. Meath:

  • Average farm cover: 880kg DM/ha;
  • Growth: 81kg DM/ha/day;
  • Demand/ha: 34kg DM/ha/day;
  • Stocking rate: 2.42 LU/ha.

Grass levels on the farm ran low after the last few bits of silage were cut in late August. I spread 28 units/ac of urea across the entire farm between then [late August] and the start of September to keep growth going. This seems to have worked well as grass availability has recovered back to where it needs to be on the back of growth rates from 45kg to 80kg DM/ha/day over the last couple of weeks.

The heavy weather over the last while might be helping grass growth but it has also brought with it a slight outbreak of pneumonia among some of the spring-born calves. While I think I have them on the mend now, it’s something I will be staying very vigilant for over the rest of the autumn.

14 spring of 2019 born heifers were selected for fattening off-grass and are currently getting 4.2kg of meal per head per day. They are fattening up very quickly and as of now it looks like a selection of them will be fit to go before the November 1 deadline I had aimed for.