Grazing prospects much better than 12 months ago

After the recent snow and cold, it looks like we may have a more settled spell of weather, so stock on beef farms can start leaving sheds.

A milder spell is needed now, so that ground can dry up enough for grazing and fertiliser application.

Many dairy farmers have their milkers out by day, while some are also looking at going out to grass by night.

A lot of weanlings are likely to be turned out to grass soon, if weather permits.

For some — believe it or not — it is necessary to get stock out, because fodder is getting scarce. However, there is plenty of grass in paddocks, as growth was very good since closing last autumn.

Those lucky enough to spread slurry earlier in the year report that grass has greened up and is ready to take off. There is no doubt ground is ready to push out grass once the weather settles, hopefully sooner rather than later.

How much grass will stock eat?

It is important at this time of year that livestock farmers have an appreciation of the quantity and quality of grass that is available to their cattle.

The first rotation of grazing this year is of excellent quality, as fields were grazed out very well in the autumn.

First grazing this year is high dry matter, has high fibre and high energy, while having lower protein than any grazing throughout the rest of the year.

It is worth remembering that grass is a feed ingredient and like any other, needs careful balancing from time to time, in order to optimise performance.

Grass Quality

Grazing swards are lovely and clean this spring, due to the excellent grazing conditions in the last back-end.

It is important to commence grazing this at the earliest opportunity, because paddocks that have already been grazed this spring are growing much more grass than un-grazed swards.

This is a complete contrast to the spring of 2013, when swards were full of dead, unpalatable grass.

Sward Management

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, because 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.

Animal Performance

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 in general have been excellent. However, weight gain and growth have for many been under par, due mainly to the quality of the forage being fed, which was only average.

Weight monitoring

Over the past few years, many farms have begun weighing stock at regular intervals. This allows for monitoring of performance, and for necessary adjustments of feeding and management.

Remember to weigh cattle at the same time of day, each time to get accurate results, because rumen fill or emptiness can distort weighings.

If animals are on target, keep them on target. Under-performing animals should be managed differently, to get back on track once turned out.

It is important that you optimise performance after turnout. In particular, heifers to be bred for the first time this spring 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. Don’t forget mineral supplementation at grass particularly to breeding heifers.


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