Managing your farm through dry weather conditions: In this article, CAFRE Beef and Sheep Branch, Downpatrick, Co Down, provides advice for beef and sheep farmers.
Farmers now have to think about how best to manage their grass supply.
Due to the recent dry spell and soaring temperatures in some areas, grass quality and quantity has been impacted.
Little can be done to grow more grass without the water, so in this period of rain shortage, it is important to best utilise what is available.
Managing your farm
In drier areas where there is variable/reduced grass growth, there may be a diminishing supply. Farmers may be looking at ways to manage better what they have available.
For the beef farmer, at this time, the main aim is to balance and match grass supply and demand.
Firstly they should identify their grass demand based on the number and types of livestock being grazed.
Next, their grass supply needs to be identified and assessed; you can do this by walking the total grazing area at least once per week and measuring grass covers.
By having a clear picture of these two variables, the farmer can assess if the demand and supply match his needs.
Paddock grazing system
A good way of best managing grass supply is to implement a paddock grazing system. Many beef farmers within the BDG programme have been adopting this system over the past few years.
The method relies on splitting fields into smaller paddocks and rotating stock between these. Leaving part of the grazing block vacant allows time for recovery and new grass covers to build.
If daily grass growth is low, increase the length of time between rotations to replenish supply.
If cover is slow to build and the farmer has surplus fodder, you could use this to buffer feed.
You can use a straw chopper to dispense feed throughout the bare/eaten paddock. This would allow the farmer to hold animals for additional days, lengthening the rotation and resulting in other paddocks gaining the prolonged rest period needed.
Rotation can also be lengthened by first grazing the headlands of silage fields already harvested and bringing this additional ground back into the grazing block.
What to do when grass supply or demand is under pressure
If grass supply or demand is under pressure, the farmer can employ several different strategies to ensure efficient utilisation of what is available.
For instance, if autumn calvers are still suckling calves on the farm, weaning these will reduce grazing demand.
If it allows, forward creep graze spring-born calves, or if not, introduce meal creep feeding.
Consider selling store cattle or unproductive cows you have earmarked for culling, putting less demand on the grass available.
During periods of extreme heat, it is also necessary to be mindful of other needs the animals may have.
It is important to provide some shade cover for livestock and ensure these animals always have a fresh, clean water supply.
Furthermore, suckler cow farmers should be vigilant of cows that are bulling. In the extreme heat, consider removing these animals from the main herd during bulling, particularly where there are strong male calves that are following after the cow on heat.
In conclusion, for effective grass management, it is important to have a:
- Clear picture of your supply and demand;
- Good plan in place to ensure you utilise grass efficiently;
- Options to deal with variances such as dry weather.