Sheep grassland management: Setting up the farm for next spring

Grazing conditions have been difficult over the last fortnight, as ground conditions continue to deteriorate.

Over the coming weeks, the management of grass sheep on farms will play a significant role in what way the farm will be set up for the 2021 grazing season.

Next spring farmers will want to be offering their ewes and newborn lambs the best possible grass they can. So, to achieve this, a couple of factors which are in the farmer’s control are the post-grazing residual of a paddock and the closing farm cover.

Correct management and closing of paddocks from now on will set up the farm for grazing next spring and get the grazing season off to a good start. 

First off is the grazing residual. The aim is to remove any dead material at the base of the sward particularly in heavy covers and have a fresh re-growth over the winter.

Therefore, farmers should aim to graze down to 3.5-4cm to graze out paddocks fully. In this weather, good cleanouts are difficult but by splitting paddocks or increasing ewe group sizes, then this will result in less time spent in paddocks and better cleanouts.

This also works well when dealing with heavy covers. Moreover, aim to allow paddocks a 120-day rest period over the winter months prior to grazing next spring.

This is to allow covers to build on those first paddocks when growth is still active. During late-November into December and January, grass growth will be minimal.

The higher opening covers next spring on these earlier closed paddocks will allow them to respond faster to improvements in temperature and fertiliser application.

According to Teagasc, most farms need to aim for a closing farm cover in December of 600kg DM/ha.

Note: Based on March-lambing flocks. Data source: Teagasc

For the table (above), later lambing flocks may delay slightly but it’s essential that the first 20% and 40% are closed at the suggested times outlined (above), according to Teagasc.

This is to allow sufficient regrowth as these first closed paddocks are vital to a good start next spring. Furthermore, aim to close paddocks that will be used first at turnout – generally the more sheltered ones near the yard.

Over the coming weeks, it is vital to avoid re-grazing closed paddocks. Even though it may be tempting to re-graze paddocks in order to delay housing, come next spring, you will look back and regret grazing those closed paddocks again when grass supplies are in short supply.