Don’t eat all the spring grass now

Dawn Meats Chief Executive Niall Browne and Group Environmental Sustainability Manager Charlie Coakley at the recent Bord Bia Food and Drink Awards 2013.

You would be forgiven for forgetting that it was the first week of December.

Travelling around the country, I have seen a lot of stock outdoors.

This extended grazing season has been a great boost, but there may be hidden pitfalls in continuing to graze on much longer.

Are animals performing as you require, from December grass, and what grass will you have left for the spring?

Obviously it is better to get very heavy covers off the paddocks, in order to ensure sward quality next spring.

And if your farm is lightly stocked, you can afford to graze on, as demand will not be high in the spring.

However, if you are going to be heavily stocked at turnout next spring you need to consider housing the remaining stock.

Most of the animals that remain out grazing are wean-lings, and unless they are being supplemented with concentrates, they are not achieving growth targets. This is more of an issue if these are heifers that you intend on bulling next spring. They need to be growing well in order to reach sexual maturity and begin cycling well in advance of the breeding season.

For bulls or bullocks that you intend on selling to grass next spring, any reduced weight gain now will significantly lower your sale price.

Grazing Brassicas

With the prospect earlier in the year of a fodder shortage again this winter, many planted forage rape or kale to graze through the winter.

These forages will provide a means of stretching available fodder, but need to be balanced to achieve desired animal performance.

Most will feed these crops to weanlings for some or all of the winter. Remember that they are low in dry matter, and will require supplementation with silage or concentrates, or both.

Kale and forage rape are deficient in iodine, and any animals being fed them need to be supplemented with additional iodine while grazing them. Many will use a high iodine bolus to achieve this. This can also be achieved with the inclusion of a high iodine mineral in any concentrates being fed.

Balancing Wholecrop

As well as sowing brassicas to provide additional fodder, many also bought a standing cereal crop to harvest for wholecrop.

For a lot of farmers, this will be their first experience of wholecrop. As with kale and rape, it requires different balancing than for grass silage.

Wholecrop cereals are much lower in protein than grass silage. Also, due to the high straw content in the pit, the wholecrop may be lower in energy than silage, even though it contains a lot of cereal.

Some of the wholecrop pits are very dry, and require careful management to avoid spoilage and feeding of mouldy feed to stock. Feeding mouldy feed will have an adverse effect, reducing total energy intake, while also reducing rumen bug populations.

Much of the mould in wholecrop relates back to omission of the final fungicide on cereal crops, when it is decided that it will not be combined for grain. Unfortunately, this short-sighted practice is all too common.


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