Grass growth has been good this year but managing swards has been quite challenging writes John Sands, Senior Beef and Sheep Development Advisor, CAFRE.Conditions have varied across the country. For some, almost perfect conditions. Livestock were turned out early and have performed well on quality grazing swards. First-cut silage was harvested before the end of May and regrowth has been quick.
For others the situation has been less than perfect as high levels of rainfall left turnout dates late, grazing conditions difficult, livestock unsettled and performance average. First cut silage was delayed into June by which time seed heads had emerged and grass quality deteriorated. These late cut grass crops were large and this has resulted in poor regrowth of the cut swards.
Planning ahead will help to overcome some of the difficulties which can arise with your grass swards.
Reseeding some of your older swards will extend your grazing season enabling an earlier turnout but needs careful consideration beforehand. Choose varieties with good dense growth habits as they will improve the stock carrying capacity in damper conditions.Grazing off old grass during the winter months with sheep or light cattle prepares the sward for the coming growing season as old grass restricts the growth of the new spring grass.
An earlier turnout means that the entire grazing area of the farm will have been grazed off at least once before the end of May. This will avoid the risk of having un-grazed grass plants going to seed head and becoming unpalatable.Knowing the demands of livestock, monitoring grass growth and deciding when paddocks should be taken out and cut for silage is one of the most challenging tasks on your farm.
The main cutting fields should be closed up and fertilised during early April and cut for silage by the end of May before seed heads emerge if high quality silage is required. Grazing paddocks in excess of requirement should also be cut but these can be taken as round bales. This avoids swards going to seed head and quality deteriorating.
A good grazing system is necessary if livestock performance and utilisation of the grass grown is to be optimised.
If each grass plant is grazed off every three weeks and then rested for three more the lower leaves will not die and production will be maximised. To maximise grass growth rates and utilisation, a rotational/paddock grazing system should be established.
Michael McPolin a Business Development Group (BDG) member from Cabra, Newry has been paddock grazing his suckler cows and other cattle for a number of years and said:
“It is an excellent system which enables me to control production from grass and livestock on the farm. Paddock grazing can improve output by at least 20%. One day paddocks work best in damp conditions whereas one-week paddocks are ideal in dry conditions.”
Set stocking, however, is the preferred grazing system used by many farmers but control is more difficult as grass growth rates change throughout the season.
By John Sands, Senior Beef and Sheep Development Advisor, CAFRE.