By Brian Reidy
After the snow and cold, we could badly do with a settled spell, so that stock can start leaving the sheds.
A milder spell is needed now, and ground must dry up enough for grazing, slurry and fertiliser application.
Many took the opportunity earlier this week to get slurry out, after ground conditions improved significantly.
Little or no damage has been done, thankfully.
Many dairy farmers had their milkers out by day over the last few weeks before storm Emma and the Beast from the East arrived.
Some dairy farmers had also been looking at going out to grass for a few hours after evening milking.
Plenty of weanlings are likely to be turned out to grass soon, if the weather permits, because silage is in short supply.
Also, covers need to be grazed off to kick start growth and allow for slurry to be spread.
In most parts, there is plenty of grass in paddocks, because growth was very good up until recently, since closing fields last autumn.
Those lucky enough to spread slurry earlier in the year report that grass has greened up and is ready to take off once soil temperatures increase.
In most areas, there is no point in applying nitrogen until soil temperatures rise a few degrees.
When they finally hit grass, how much can cattle eat?
We as cattle farmers really must have an appreciation of the quantity and quality of grass that is available to our cattle.
The first rotation of grazing this year is only average in quality because it has been weather burned and, in many cases, is starved for nutrients because most farmers have not got fertiliser out yet.
First grazings each year are high in dry matter and fibre, with average energy content, while having lower protein than any grazing throughout the rest of the year.
It is worth remembering that grass is a feed ingredient like any other, and needs careful balancing in the diet from time to time in order to optimise performance.
As the grass available in the first rotation is a dry material (approx 18-21% dry matter) stock will be slower going through swards than you might expect.
Each bite contains a huge amount of feeding.
Allocating too much grass will result in a lot of waste, particularly in the first few days after turn-out, when animals will tend to do a lot of walking.
In heavier soils, or in wet weather, animals will also drag clay around on their hoofs, dirtying swards.
Poor sward management at this time of year can result in very low grass utilisation, and can affect subsequent grass quality and yields.
In recent years, the practice of grazing lower covers at turnout has become popular.
This makes a lot of sense because stock will graze lower covers better, as they are getting used to grazing after the winter.
This strategy will also mean that when you are grazing heavier covers at the end, the first rotation will slow down.
With recent cold spell stopping grass growth, commencement of the second round may need to be delayed.
Animal performance on grass
Obviously, regardless of sward quality, the performance of the animals must be the priority.
Stock went into the winter in great order, and their appetites have been excellent in general.
However, weight gain and growth have been under par on many farms due mainly to the quality of the forage being only average.
Breeding heifers in particular need to be kept on a positive plane of nutrition before and during the breeding season.
Monitoring stock performance
Many producers weigh stock regularly interval.
This allows for monitoring of performance and for necessary adjustments of feeding and management to be made.
Remember to weigh cattle at the same time of day each time to get accurate results, because rumen fill or emptiness can distort the data.
If animals are on target, keep them on target.
Under-performing animals should be managed differently, to get them back on track after they are turned out.
It is important that you optimise performance after turnout.
Heifers to be bred for the first time this spring, in particular, require a rising plane of nutrition before insemination.
Supplementation at grass may be necessary for these heifers to achieve growth targets, particularly if they are being calved at 24 months or under.
If targets are being achieved, don’t forget mineral supplementation at grass particularly for breeding heifers.