Grazing grass represents Irish farmer’s greatest advantage in livestock production, writes Michael Donoghue, B&T Dairy Adviser, Teagasc Galway/Clare.
It costs 3 to 4 times less than either silage or meal, stock perform better, and labour input is drastically reduced. After a wet autumn and reasonable mild winter, most farmers have a good supply of spring grass and this is reflected on Pasturebase where AFC for the region is 750kg DM/Ha.
The challenge now is to use that grass.
Spring grazing plan targets:
|% of Farm Grazed||Heavy Farm||Dry Farm|
|33||March 7th||March 1st|
|66||March 25th||March 15th|
|100||April 15th||April 5th|
The above grazing plan is a very good guide and every farmer can adopt it to their own farm. As can be seen, the targets for heavy farms are a little later than drier farms reflecting later turn out dates. The principles behind it are very simple;
- To get grass into animal’s diet early in the spring;
- To start your farm growing;
- To ensure you have enough grass to start the second round in April.
One of the more challenging aspects of the above plan is to get 33% of the farm grazed in February. However, getting 33% grazed in February is vital to ensure there is enough grass to start the second round.
The fields grazed in February will have 40 to 60 days to recover so taking a growth of 20kg/day as an average, over the period, there should be 1,000kg of cover to start grazing the second round.
The key to getting grass grazed in February is flexibility. Embrace on-off grazing, cows should be let out if only for 2 hours, go to low covers and use other stock if required, i.e. replacements, to get ground grazed. The importance of this cannot be overstated as failure to graze enough in February will result in shortages in April.
The second third will be grazed from roughly 1st March to 20th March and should be more straight forward as day length is increasing, stock are eating more and are more settled.
The last third to be grazed will require a bit more management as this might have to be speeded up or slowed down depending on the growth.
If growth has been good in March and the farm is actively growing, the first round can be finished 5 to 10 days earlier but if the spring is poor, the first round may well have to be extended until the 15th or 20th April to give grass a chance.
The above highlights the grazing targets over the next 2 months that should ensure stock get access to high-quality cheap spring grass while also ensuring there will be enough grass for April.
Allied to this will be spreading N, good soil fertility management and having a flexible approach to management, to get over the evitable wet weather.