GrowthWatch: Graze paddocks now that you want to be hitting early next spring

By Teagasc’s Seán Cummins and James Fitzgerald

In the main, grazing conditions have been relatively good this autumn. Grass availability and growth rates have been strong and ground conditions have allowed for tight grazing up to recent days.

It is hoped that, at this point, the autumn rotation is progressing strongly for most farms and farmers on heavy soils should have 70%+ of the farm grazed and closed and dry farms should have between 50% and 60% closed this week.

Farmers should be grazing paddocks that they want to be grazing early next spring, for example, dry paddocks with good access, that have 800-1,000kg DM/ha on them.

The recent rain is forcing the hand of many farmers with regard to housing heavier stock but this is to be expected at this time of the year. Due to good grass growth rates throughout the autumn, there are some farms that find themselves with a lower area of their farm grazed off and a lot of grass in front of them to graze.

This grass must be grazed off this back end to ensure that the quality of the grass that grows back in the spring is up to the quality we expect. If left behind this grass, it will be mostly dead matter in the spring that will reduce quality and make it hard for animals to graze cleanly.

Wet weather grazing management which needs to be used in this situation revolves around the following.

  • Housing the heaviest stock which would cause the most ground damage;
  • Give a fresh area of grass to the stock each day that they can graze down to 4cm;
  • Move the stock on to a fresh area everyday and do not allow them back onto the grazed area;
  • Be flexible about housing. If grazing is becoming an impossibility and too much damage is being done to the sward, house the stock temporarily and turnout again once conditions improve;
  • Remember that a small amount of poaching is acceptable and the sward will recover quickly once growth rates increase again in the spring.

For farmers who find that grass availability isn’t that high, remember not to overgraze your farm at this time of the year. The target is to have an average farm cover (AFC) of 500-600kg DM/ha at closing so that you will begin grazing in the spring again with good grass availability (800kg DM/ha).

Peter Byrne, Castledermot, Co. Kildare:

  • Growth: 30kg DM/ha/day;
  • Demand: 23 kg DM/ha/day;
  • AFC: 644 kg DM/ha;
  • Stocking rate: 2.0 LU/ha.

Grass growth is beginning to wind down on the farm, resulting in a drop in grass levels over the last few weeks. Over the previous weeks, I had all of the stock out grazing and a demand for grass of 37kg DM/ha/day.

I kept up to speed easily with the autumn rotation plan to close up the farm to date and now find myself having to apply the breaks on grazing in order to stretch out the grass that’s left until the young cattle are ready to go into the fodder beet.

I have grazed 51% of the farm in the last rotation to date which is slightly ahead of the targeted 42% target for now. Also, the majority of the heavy covers have already been eaten, meaning that the rotation would be getting faster and faster from now on as grass covers been offered to the cattle get lower.

On the back of this, I have decided to house all of the older cattle that are to be finished out of the shed this winter. These include early-maturing heifers which will be drafted for slaughter over the coming weeks as they come fit, and Holstein Friesian, Aberdeen Angus and Hereford bullocks which will be finished later in the winter and next spring.

Remaining outside to finish the grazing rotation are the 47 autumn-born calves and 70 spring-born calves and the 20 dry suckler cows which are mopping up after the calves.

This should provide the right balance for the next couple of weeks to complete the autumn rotation by mid-November. Should I find that they are again pulling away from the targets for the percentage of the farm to be closed it will be the suckler cows that will be the next to be housed.

JP Hammersley, Lattin, Co. Tipperary:

  • Growth: 16kg DM/ha;
  • Demand: 12kg DM/ha;
  • AFC: 310kg DM/ha;
  • Stocking rate: 0.64 LU/ha.

The average farm cover has dropped over the last couple of weeks due to factors outside of my control. Initially, I’d hoped to have the heavier Friesian stores housed and started on a finishing diet three weeks ago, but delays in completing building works ruled this out and cattle had to stay at grass longer than planned.

These animals were housed this week and this has greatly reduced the farm’s demand and grassland stocking rate.

Although farm cover is lower than where I would like it to be, there’s 53% of the farm closed for next spring and if an average growth rate of 10kg DM/ha can be achieved between now and February 1, these paddocks should have a minimum grass cover of 1,000kg DM/ha next spring.

Depending on weather conditions, calves will stay out up until mid-November. However, this will depend more so on ground conditions than grass supply.

As grass supplies have been tight over the last number of weeks, I made the decision to supplement the calves with 2kg/head/day of concentrates.

I am happy with the way calves have performed with this supplementary feeding and, going forward, I plan to cut out meal during the months of July and August and introduce meal again come early September – typically when grass dry matters begin to drop.