Winding down the grazing season in Teagasc Ballyhaise

As this year’s grazing season draws to a close, it is time for farmers to start thinking about closing up paddocks for the winter – to ensure an adequate amount of grass is available for grazing next spring.

During a recent visit to Ballyhaise Agricultural College, Teagasc’s Donal Patton outlined the objectives of autumn grassland management as well as what Ballyhaise’s grazing strategy is for this autumn.

According to Donal, autumn grassland management is a game of two halves. “The first half really starts in early to mid-August. The objective of this first half is to build grass, so that we can stretch grazing into the autumn,” he explained.

However, this year many farmers did not reach their target peak farm cover which Donal put down to a combination of “farmers not spreading enough nitrogen (N) fertiliser in August and, also, silage being taken out later than normal”.

“I would encourage these farmers to look back and see what went wrong in terms of their building strategy,” highlighted Donal.

Continuing, he said: “The second half is about extending the grazing season, reaching target residuals and closing the farm at the correct average farm cover.

“If you compared autumn with spring, the spring is more important. This is because the freshly calved cow needs plenty of energy and protein; you also get a better response from grass at this stage.

If you take one thing from this stand, it should be ‘don’t rob Peter to pay Paul’ in the autumn.

“I don’t think it will happen this year because it is wet, but in a dry year sometimes farmers tend to graze on – affecting the availability of grass next spring.”

Ballyhaise’s autumn grazing strategy

Below are the autumn grazing targets for the extended grazing trail in Ballyhaise (260 days at grass); however, Donal emphasised that these targets are “not the same for every farm”.

“The principles are the same, but the dates will change depending on the farm. Things like soil type, calving pattern and stocking rate will have an influence on these dates,” explained Donal.

Closing off – key targets:
  • Start closing – September 25;
  • 30% closed – October 15;
  • 70% closed – November 1;
  • Target finish – November 15.

“September 25 may sound early for some, but as we are quite heavily stocked and we calve quite compactly, we need plenty of grass next spring,” said Donal.

If they are finding it difficult to achieve these targets they will “graze lower covers first to get through area”.

Commenting further, he said: “These dates are a guide, but we actually look at target closing cover more than the dates. If we come to November 5 and the right decision is to put the cows in, based on cover target, we will put them in.

“Our aim is to have an average farm cover of between 700kg DM/ha and 750kg DM/ha by December 1.”

Managing during difficult grazing conditions

Farm manager, Barry Reilly, was also on hand on the day to discuss his paddock closing strategy and what he is doing to combat the current difficult grazing conditions.

Answering the question why is he here today and not somewhere else, he said: “What I grazed last week is where I want to be post Paddy’s Day with a cover somewhere between 1,600kg DM/ha and 2,000kg DM/ha on it.

At that stage we will have 80% of the herd calved, intakes will be up and we will be in a good position to tackle those heavy covers.

“Next week, I will graze the drier ground with multiple access and water points. The ground that I will be guaranteed to go to early next spring – will have a nice cover of grass on it.”

In terms of his grazing techniques, he said: “We are grazing the cows in 12-hour blocks and in some cases, grazing the backs of paddocks first – through using a spur roadway to gain access to the back of the paddock.

“We are just trying to do as little damage as possible – particularly on bare ground – while reaching residuals and getting the intakes into the cows,” explained Barry.