‘Spring grass is higher in protein and energy; and four times cheaper than meal’

This spring has not gone to plan in terms of grazing and grass growth on farms the length and breath of the country.

Cold weather and prolonged heavy rainfall in recent weeks has hampered farmers’ chances of getting cattle out to graze early spring grass, which is not only a quality feed, but it also allows farmers to set up the grazing platform for oncoming season.

While some farmers in select locations were lucky enough to get a proportion of the farm grazed in February and indeed throughout March, others were left waiting for a suitable opportunity which simply didn’t come.

However, as forecasted, weather conditions have improved and farmers have made provisions to move some cattle out to grass; many have been successful in doing so.

But, how valuable is spring grass as a feed?

Speaking at a recent Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef farm walk – which took place on the farm of Shane Cranny in Co. Carlow – Teagasc’s James Doran outlined why farmers should make every effort to graze grass in the springtime.

“We put a lot of emphasis on spring grass. Every additional day at pasture is worth €2.00/LU. Also, store cattle can increase liveweight gain close to 1kg/day on good-quality spring grass.

“We are also setting the paddocks up for high-quality swards and good yields in the second and third grazings. Early grazing conditions the sward and kick starts the plant into the growth phase.

“Farmers should aim to utilise 1t of DM/ha in the first rotation – what does that mean? The first rotation is all geared towards magic day – trying to get to a stage somewhere around April 10-15 in this part of the world [Co. Carlow] where grass growth starts to exceed grass demand,” James explained.

In terms of feeding value, James said: “Spring grass has a protein content of 19-22% and a UFL of 1.05-1.1; it costs €0.07-0.08c/kg of dry matter.

“It’s much better quality in terms of protein and energy and four times cheaper than meal – that’s the carrot. That’s why we put so much emphasis on getting as much spring grass into the diet as possible,” he added.

Additionally, spring nitrogen (N) application is essential to boost growth and James noted that there is an average spring N response of approximately 10kg of dry matter (DM) per kilogram of N applied.

“What does that mean in practical terms – a half bag of urea is probably going to grow half a centimeter of grass per hectare; you won’t see massive growth because of the time of year, but it’s about getting it moving.

“Slurry is not to be underestimated; there is huge value in putting out 2,500-3,000 gallons/ac on paddocks that were grazed tight last backend,” he concluded.

Teagasc’s Tom Deane was also on hand to discuss the spring rotation planner.

“It is an excellent guideline in terms of how much area you should be grazing weekly, which sets up a specific plan for each farm depending on your turnout date and the end of the first rotation,” he explained.

As of last week, Shane had 30% of the farm grazed. He said: “We are a bit behind, but it just wasn’t possible to get stock out in the weather conditions – I only have the reared calves out for three weeks. They are light so they went out first – by day and in at night.

“The older cattle have been out grazing for approximately 10 days full time – on the driest paddocks on the farm,” he added.

Also speaking at the event, Volac’s Rebecca O’Sullivan and Liam Gannon spoke about managing and feeding young calves, while MSD Animal Health’s Suzanne Naughton outlined the importance of implementing a herd health plan.