It’s been a spring to forget so far, especially in terms of grassland management and trying to establish grazing groups.

When the weather is good for a day you think to yourself – this could be the start of the fine weather. The next thing you know, the rain is back the following day.

It’s been a difficult spring for farmers and depending on where you are in the country; turnout of ewes and their lambs has been delayed on some farms, while others have had to bring some back into the comforts of the shed, after already turning them out earlier in the spring.

Grass growth is still very slow to kick off in many parts of the country, and this wasn’t helped by the delay of getting fertiliser out onto the ground.

In an ideal scenario, at this time on sheep farms, turning ewes and their lambs out to grass without the need for concentrate supplementation, or at least minimal supplementation, would be the goal.

Even for farms that closed ground early at the back end of last year, it is still difficult this spring not to give some meal, as the weather has been so bad, on top of not being able to get fertiliser out on the ground early in order to really kick on growth.

Where grass supplies are low, concentrate feeding will be required.

Yearling ewes with lambs at foot will need to be supplemented regardless.

Grazing groups of ewes and lambs

For farms that operate a rotational grazing system, the target should be to group ewes and lambs into larger grazing groups as soon as possible, post-turnout.

Trying to get grazing groups established early is important as it will set up the grazing rotation.

This will also help improve performance by reducing the residency period in individual fields (less time spent grazing low covers).

Moving grazing groups on faster will also allow for better regrowth, which will increase the overall grass supply on the farm.

As the month progresses, continue to batch ewes and lambs into larger grazing groups.

According to Teagasc, a number of factors will determine the optimum grazing group size.

Factors include:
  • Number of grazing divisions available -need minimum of five per grazing group;
  • The average size of paddocks – is there an option to sub-divide with temporary fencing?;
  • Maximum group size of ewes, including their lambs, which the sheep handling unit accommodates;
  • Overall flock size;
  • Farm all in one block vs. fragmented holding.