GrowthWatch: Preparations for spring grassland management begin now

By Teagasc’s Seán Cummins and James Fitzgerald

Although seemingly a long way away, preparations for spring grassland management are starting to take place on the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef farms.

Ensuring farms close with an adequate supply of grass this back-end is critical to getting cattle out to grass as early as possible next spring.

Not only will achieving an earlier turnout have positive impacts in terms of economics, its higher feed value will have positive impacts on animal performance compared to the silage / concentrate diets offered over the winter months.

To make an earlier turnout possible, plans must be put in place at farm level and this takes the form of the autumn rotation planner – a tool which enables the farm to be closed off properly to have an adequate supply of grass next spring.

The reasons for its use are twofold. Firstly, it allows you to maximise the proportion of grazed grass in the animal’s diet for the remainder of the year and, secondly, it ensures that a sufficient supply of high-quality grass is available next spring to facilitate an early turnout.

The 60:40 autumn rotation planner is based on having proportions of the farm closed by certain dates. These dates will vary slightly across the country and depend on soil type and the amount of grass that is likely to grow over the winter. An outline of these target dates is provided in the (below) table.

Shane Cranny, Myshall, Co. Carlow:

  • Growth: 51kg DM/ha;
  • Demand: 30kg DM/ha;
  • Average farm cover: 821kg DM/ha;
  • Stocking rate: 1.9LU/ha.

The farm recorded a growth rate of 51kg DM/ha over the past week and the good weather has allowed excellent graze-outs to be achieved.

Although housing is hopefully a long way away, I’m starting to focus on what paddocks will be grazed and closed in early-October to ensure there’s an adequate supply of grass next February to allow for an early turnout.

I am aiming to graze and close some of the paddocks closest to the yard first as the autumn-born calves will be let out by day initially and it suits when they are close to house them in the evening time.

The farm cover at the moment is 821kg DM/ha and I would be aiming to close with a cover of 550-600kg DM/ha come late-November.

To achieve this, and to ensure there’s an adequate supply of grass next spring, I’ll be implementing an autumn rotation planner with a target of having 60% of the farm closed by late-October and using the remainder of the ground to carry us through until late-November.

I’ve also started to slaughter autumn 2018-born steers off grass, with the first batch going without supplementary feeding.

To get the remainder of the animals over the line and to ensure they are moved off-farm before the need to house occurs, I’ve introduced concentrate supplementation at a rate of 4kg/head/day.

As ground conditions are excellent, this feed is being offered under the strip wire in the field and it should help in giving the steers the final few kilogrammes they need to achieve an adequate fat cover.

JP Hammersley, Latin, Co. Tipperary:

  • Growth: 52kg DM/ha;
  • Demand: 28kg DM/ha;
  • Average farm cover: 501kg DM/ha;
  • Stocking rate: 1.85LU/ha.

Growth has been running at almost double demand for the past three weeks and it is allowing me to build grass covers on farm.

I’ve recorded a growth rate of 52kg DM/ha over the past week, while demand is running at 28kg DM/ha.

The three-week average figure for growth and demand respectively is 46kg DM/ha and 25kg DM/ha. With this level of surplus grass, I’ve been able to pull up the average farm cover [AFC] of the farm from 340kg DM/ha to 501kg DM/ha since September 1.

Although the farm is running slightly behind where it needs to be in terms of cover, I’ve the option to house some of the finishing Friesian steers earlier as they were well ahead of target on their mid-season weight.

If a similar level of performance compared to previous has been achieved between the mid-season weighing this year and now, these steers should be hitting the 510kg as an average as it stands, with the heaviest being well over the 550kg mark.

If growth drops below demand, the heaviest of these animals will be housed and finished earlier. Although they will be finished at an earlier age, our carcass weight target of 320kg should be well and truly achievable.

In terms of closing up ground, I’m farming a mixture of dry and heavy land, so I’ve settled on closing some of the paddocks intermediate of the Teagasc targets for these respective land types, with a closing date of October 2 targeted for the first of the paddocks.

Again, the target is to close with an AFC of 550-600kg DM/ha and, if I can keep growth ahead of demand, this target is achievable.