Once again in 2020, grass is a difficult crop to manage

Once again in 2020, grass is a difficult crop to manage
Four 24 month old Hereford bullocks average weight 538 kilos sold for €1,104 each. Photo O'Gorman Photography.

Grazing is becoming a challenge in some parts of the county.

For many, who have had sufficient rain, there is a surplus, and identifying it is half the battle.

The other half of the battle is convincing yourself to take it out.

For others, where no significant rain has been seen since early April, the story is very different.

Slowing down the rotation may be necessary, and some will need to take stock off the land and feed them.

Grass is a difficult crop to manage at times, and particularly so when we go from a period of good growth to low growth rates all of a sudden.

Weekly farm walks will help to identify impending issues with grass supply.

Where growth is very good, and grass is getting too far ahead, the issue of poor utilisation of grass will have a knock-on effect on animal performance.

Strong grass is wasted by animals trampling on it, and this grass is also much lower in energy and digestibility.

Not to mention the next round of grazing, if it is not topped. Topping is a very low return exercise, and best avoided.

A strategy I like is to earmark a not fully grazed out paddock for bales in three weeks’ time. The mower still enters the field, but you have some feed for your mowing, and nice after-grass later.

Surplus grass decisions

It is critical that you get a handle on grass quality and quantity sooner rather than later, to optimise performance from grass. If you get on top of it in May, you could be amazed by how much silage you might gather up from your grazing platform.

Skip strong paddocks and pit or wrap them, once they are identified as surplus, while continuing to fertilise and grow grass while it will grow.

Don’t wait for a main cut of silage to take out surplus grass, as it delays that paddock’s return to productivity.

Performance from grass

Obviously, if grass quality is poor, you need to take action ASAP.

Take out surplus grass sooner rather than later, so that it can come back into the rotation on time.

If you regularly need to take out surplus paddocks, keep nitrogen application at one unit per day.

This will ensure that preservation is successfully achieved in both bales and pit saved. Excess nitrogen retains moisture.

Don’t hold back several fields/paddocks for wrapping on the one day, as they will all be ready for grazing at the one time in the next rotation, leading to another surplus.

If your grass quality is poor, and perhaps you are also short of grass, then, in order to achieve target weight gains, you may well need to feed meal.

If you don’t feed during a period of energy deficit, it will be very hard for cattle to catch up to reach targets.

Suckler breeding

A large proportion of spring suckler cows should now be back in calf for 2021.

In order to maximise the number of calves on the ground, it would be a good idea to consider scanning the herd, to identify those not yet back in calf, and allow action to be taken.

Cows that have not yet cycled after calving should be priority for scanning.

Getting these cows back on track will increase your submission rate, and lead to more calves on the ground next spring.

Try to keep cows and calves on top quality grass, to ensure that cows are getting optimum energy intakes.

Don’t force cows and calves to graze out stemmy grass.

Keep up supplementation of cows with a mineral while on grass, to deliver sufficient magnesium as well as essential minerals and vitamins to aid reproduction.

Autumn calvers

Autumn calving dry cows on grass are in danger of getting too fat if they are given free access to quality grass.

Grazing a bare paddock with access to hay or straw will help to control their condition. Try to restrict their intakes. Supply them with a good quality dry cow mineral.

If these cows are not already dry, then perhaps a shorter dry period (by delaying weaning a little) may be good for both cow and calf.

A longer lactation will keep condition off the cow, and a later weaned calf will be heavier for sale.

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