GrowthWatch: Grazing season draws to a close for heavier stock

By Teagasc’s Seán Cummins and James Fitzgerald

The 2020 grazing season is beginning to draw to a close on farms participating in the Teagasc Green Acres Calf-to-Beef Programme.

Unfavourable weather conditions over the past week have seen the last of the heavier stock housed in many cases, with just lighter weanlings continuing to graze in many instances.

At this stage, drier farms should have 60% of the grazing area closed for next spring, while heavier or highly stocked farms should be targeting 70-80% closed.

With 40% of the grazing area still available on many farms, lighter animals – with spring-born animals being supplemented with concentrates – will finish up the remainder of the ground.

However, farmers need to bear in mind the level of grass still present on farms in terms of the average farm cover (AFC). Ideally, this should not drop below 500kg DM/ha; where this occurs cattle should be housed and the farm should be closed.

Letting this figure drop below the 500kg DM/ha mark now will have a negative effect on the quantity of grass available at turnout next spring.

When this occurs, spring turnout will be delayed or sufficient grass quantities may only be available for a small number of stock next spring.

In terms of managing grazing animals at grass still, given the quantities of rain that have fallen over recent days, a number of management techniques must be used at farm level.

Wet weather grazing techniques:

  • Walk the farm daily to assess grazing conditions;
  • Graze paddocks where cattle can be housed or moved off quickly if conditions deteriorate beyond grazing;
  • Use 12-hour allocations and offer cattle fresh grass twice daily;
  • Use a back-fence to protect grazed areas from poaching and to protect re-growths for next spring;
  • Aim to graze covers of 8-10cm (1,200-1,500kg DM) where conditions allow, lighter covers may be grazed if conditions are challenging.

Patrick Collins, Castlemartyr, Co. Cork:

  • Growth: 35kg DM/ha;
  • Demand: 33kg DM/ha;
  • Average farm cover: 474kg DM/ha;
  • Stocking rate: 2.32LU/ha.

A growth rate of 35kg DM/ha was recorded over the past seven days, with demand running at 33kg/ha, while the farm cover is at 474kg DM/ha.

At this stage, half of the 2020-born calves have been housed, with the remainder to come indoors this Friday to signal the end of the 2020 grazing year. The home block has been closed at this stage and weanlings will have one more week on silage ground.

From late August up until housing, these calves were supplemented with a home-mixed ration of barley, straw and soya and it has helped them to continue to perform up until the housing period.

The first half of the Friesian bulls were weighed last Friday and they were an average of 252kg, after recording growth rates of 0.76kg/day since birth or 0.75kg/day since the previous weighing in mid-July.

I am targeting an average daily gain of at least 0.8kg/day from these animals until next spring and this will be achieved by offering a TMR [total mixed ration] mix of red clover/grass silage, barley, beet, straw and soya.

Irvine Allen, Moate, Co. Westmeath:

  • Growth: 18kg DM/ha;
  • Demand: 21kg DM/ha;
  • Average farm cover: 631kg DM/ha;
  • Stocking rate: 1.64 LU/ha.

The grazing season will be finishing up in the coming days here on my farm. The older cattle on the out-farm have about 10 days grazing left before being housed and stored for the winter. These cattle are mostly Friesian steers and will be finished off-grass next summer.

The Friesian weanlings born in the spring gone by are here on the home block which is being measured. They are also on their last few days grazing before moving onto the 12ac of kale that was sown for them at the last time of writing in early August.

There is one field on the home block which needs to be grazed off before the winter as it has a cover of 1,325kg DM/ha on it. This field was reseeded earlier in the year and is still a bit tender underfoot; the recent rain also has left surface water on parts of it.

I don’t see any value in attempting to get it eaten off now in bad conditions and run the risk of damaging it so I will move the weanlings onto the kale and come back and graze the reseed as soon as conditions allow.

When that reseeded field is grazed off the average farm cover will be closer to 550kg DM/ha which is about the right amount of grass to finish grazing with in order to have good grass in roughly four months’ time at turnout.