Advice for beef farmers: Grass deficit still on many farms

Finally, spring may have sprung, and it’s amazing how quickly grass growth takes off when air and soil temperatures rise.

Soil temperatures are still below 10 degrees C, as I write, but are rising daily.

Grass growth has improved, as most paddocks had plenty of nitrogen and/or slurry applied earlier in the year.

Much of the earlier spread fertiliser was just sitting there ready for take-off once conditions improved.

For those on heavier ground, the current dry spell is allowing fertiliser to be applied, finally.

Growth rates are however still well back compared to this time last year.

Although growth is improving, many are still in a grass deficit situation.

As a very basic rule of thumb, at this time of year, you need 10 days of grass ahead of you. If you don’t have that, supplementation of stock with silage or concentrates is still necessary.

The major issue for most is that, during the poor weather, growth was very poor, and a lot of paddocks now have very similar covers, as growth improves. But you can’t graze them all on the one day.

It is important to try and graze appropriate covers in order to maintain quality and optimise animal performance.

The last thing you want to be doing is chasing your tail around the farm, grazing low covers. You need to give paddocks sufficient time to grow good covers.

Ideal grazing covers

Many factors need to be taken into consideration when identifying the ideal cover for your farm. Every farm is slightly different when it comes to stocking rate, paddock size, land conditions, soil fertility, weather, growth rates achieved, and the time of year.

Typically, covers between 1200 and 1500 kg of dry matter per hectare would be acceptable.

Damaged/poached grassland

For most farmers, ground conditions are improving on a daily basis. Any necessary repair of swards should be done while soil conditions are good.

Some are stitching in grass seed where poaching has occurred.

Resist the temptation to roll fields too quickly. If the tractor is marking the field, then it is not dry enough to roll it yet. Rolling too early will actually increase compaction and destroy soil structure.

Many are putting off reseeding due to economic reasons, but it always pays for itself, so make it a priority, where you are dealing with under-performing swards.

Pneumonia in calves

A lot of cases of pneumonia in suckler and bucket reared calves have been reported in the last week. There is still a significant variation in temperature between night and day, try to keep a close eye on stock, and treat them as soon as possible.

If a significant number of calves require treatment, it may be an indication that there is an underlying respiratory disease issue in the herd which needs to be addressed.

Breeding Season

The breeding season is well under way in most spring suckler herds. Ensure you have good heat detection records, to identify non-cycling cows as early as possible.

Many suckler herds are now following their dairy neighbours’ example in scanning their cows.

Scanning cows at this stage will help to tighten up the calving pattern and identify cows needing intervention. Where possible, a detection aid such as scratch pads or tail paint should be used to identify cows in heat and those not cycling.


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