GrowthWatch: Making use of grass in challenging conditions

By Teagasc’s Seán Cummins and James Fitzgerald

The wet weather over the couple of days has made grazing conditions challenging on some of the heavier farms enrolled in the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme.

Combined with a period of relatively strong grass growth over recent weeks, some of the farmers in the programme are tackling heavier covers.

Where conditions have become tricky on account of rainfall, a number of management practices must come into play.

Firstly, the farm must be walked to identify paddocks that can or can’t be grazed on account of ground conditions. Keep an eye on the weather forecast; what might be grazeable at the start of the week, mightn’t be so at the end.

Although skipping wetter paddocks now may be advisable, it’s still worth trying to get these grazed when conditions allow, and if conditions improve – get in and get them grazed out.

In instances where heavier covers are being grazed (>2,000kg DM/ha), the strip wire must also come out of its summer holidays to ensure an adequate cleanout is being achieved. Even though we are in October, a post-grazing height of 4cm is still targeted. In some circumstances, it may be advisable to offer a fresh strip of grass twice daily to ensure utilisation is maximised and that animal performance is not compromised.

Where heavier covers are not grazed out adequately at this stage, you will potentially be looking at a white butt in the sward until mechanical intervention can take place in the form of bales in 2021.

By grazing it properly now, you’re going to improve the quality of grass available next spring, have more settled animals – as they will be grazing swards of leaf to the base – and, in turn, have a higher level of animal performance from your early spring grazing.

Another factor that has to be considered is the liveweight of animals that are grazing. Although skipping paddocks on some farms may be required until the weather settles again, there is also an option to graze the best of these ‘wet’ paddocks with lighter stock to reduce the risk of poaching and the wastage of grass.

Peter O’Hanrahan, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny:

  • Growth: 32kg DM/ha;
  • Demand: 51kg DM/ha;
  • Average farm cover: 1,188kg DM/ha;
  • Stocking rate: 3.99.

Growth rates are slowing down and we’re beginning to think about housing some of the more forward Friesian steers and transitioning them onto a finishing diet. Last week, the farm grew 32kg DM/ha and that figure is likely to back again next week on account of the colder and wetter weather.

Stock numbers have grown here over recent years, so we’re trying to balance grazing demand and grass supplies to try and keep the younger animals, on farm, out at grass for as long as possible.

To achieve this, we’ve set up an autumn rotation planner for the farm, with the first paddocks due to be closed the week ending October 11. We’re aiming to have 60% of the farm grazed by November 1 and to achieve this we need to graze approximately 5ac/day or 34ac/week.

We also have a tank of slurry left to spread before the slurry deadline in mid-October. We’ve looked back at soil test results and this will be applied on the hungrier silage fields at a rate of 3,000 gallons/ac after grazing. This should supply the fields with roughly 15 units of P/ac and 30 units of K/ac, which will help in bringing up the soil indexes going forward.