GrowthWatch: Dry weather takes its toll in some areas

By Teagasc’s Seán Cummins and James Fitzgerald

As the first-cut silage ground close in early April approaches its target harvesting date of the last week of May, now is a very important time to walk the whole farm and assess grass availability on your farm.

If you find that you have a surplus of grass on your farm (over 180kg DM/LU or the rotation is going to be longer than 21 days) aim to cut and bale surplus grass along with your main first-cut silage.

This will help to keep grass quality high over the next rotation and will provide some very high-quality winter feed.

Due to night frost and a prolonged dry spell in some areas, some farms have experienced lower than average grass growth rates over the last few weeks.

As a result grassland management decisions should only be based on what the current grass situation is on your farm and not what was done in previous years.

Throughout the summer months the basic grazing rules are as follows:

  • Aim for a pre-grazing sward height of 9-10cm (1,400kg DM/ha);
  • Graze paddocks down to 4cm quickly (in 2-3 days);
  • Keep the rotation length at 18-21 days;
  • Walk the farm regularly to identify grass surpluses/deficits and act accordingly.

Peter Byrne, Castledermot, Co. Kildare
  • Growth/ha: 29kg/day;
  • Demand/ha: 40kg/day;
  • Average farm cover: 905kg/ha;
  • Stocking rate: 3.95LU/ha;
  • Days ahead: 23.

Conditions have become very dry in this part of the country and that is reflected in the very low grass growth rate for this time of year that my last measure returned.

There are a couple of paddocks that under better grass growing conditions would be cut as surplus silage as they have covers of 2,500-3,000kg DM/ha. However, I am reluctant to cut them for now considering that grass growth rates have dipped well below demand.

The result would be to have to feed them straight back out to slow down the rotation. If we get some rain soon and I’m more confident of grass growth improving I should have some paddocks I can cut along with my first-cut silage.

Similar to the grazing area, the silage crop seems to be back on previous years. The temptation would be to leave it to let it bulk up. However, I am better to cut it soon and ensure it is good quality as it is going to be taken up for a second cut anyway.

Ciaran Bartley, Boher, Co. Limerick
  • Growth/ha: 88kg/day;
  • Demand/ha: 53kg/day;
  • Average farm cover: 1,100kg/ha;
  • Stocking rate: 5.32LU/ha;
  • Days ahead: 21.

After difficult spring weather, we’ve been getting rain just as we needed it over recent weeks and growth rates are responding accordingly.

A growth rate of 88kg DM/ha was recorded over the last week, with demand sitting at 53kg/day. I am taking out paddocks nearly weekly at this stage to maintain quality grass ahead of stock.

I’ve made 52 bales of surplus so far and another paddock has been targeted for cutting early next week, depending on the weather.

These bales have been stored separately and will be aimed towards 21-22 month finishing steers if grazing conditions deteriorate towards the backend of the year.

About 30ac of first-cut silage will be completed by this weekend. Yields, so far, have been good at 10 bales/ac. This ground was not grazed in the spring, due to the weather conditions, but I hope to have some of the paddocks that we’re grazed saved next week.

In terms of fertiliser, travelable grazing ground received 2,500 gallons of slurry in January, followed by 56 units of nitrogen; 20 units was applied in the form of 10-10-20 as P and K indexes are low and we’re trying to build soil fertility levels.

Grazed ground is now receiving 30 units/ac of protected urea.