Early weaning and clover incorporation in action at Newford
The performance achieved from grazed grass offers economic benefits to beef farmers, attendees at last week’s Newford Suckler Open Day heard. However, to maintain quality and performance, grass must be managed correctly.
There has always been a big emphasis on grassland management in Newford. High levels of production are required to keep quality grass ahead of livestock during the summer and shoulders of the year, while also producing enough silage for the winter months. A weekly grass walk is completed and information is uploaded to PastureBase Ireland.
When grass availability exceeds demand, surplus bales are made and similarly when demand is greater than growth rate, these surplus bales are fed back to help stretch grass supplies.
Grazing infrastructure and tonnage
Good grassland infrastructure is an essential element to maximise the total tonnage of grass grown and utilised. Water drinkers were strategically placed in the centre of every paddock on Newford farm, which allows all paddocks to be temporarily split in two to optimise utilisation and back fencing to protect regrowth.
The main rule implemented on Newford farm is to graze grass in three days and grow it in three weeks, resulting in optimum pre-grazing covers of 1,200-1,500kg DM/ha. This method ensures high leaf content of the sward, excellent graze outs and the optimisation of animal performance.
Total tonnage of grass grown on the farm has remained relatively consistent since the programme first began in 2015. Optimising the use of slurry and farm yard manure to increase phosphorus and potassium levels resulted in 12-14t DM/ha/year of total grass grown since 2015. As previously outlined, optimum pre-grazing covers allow for better graze outs and utilisation, with annual utilisation rates of 80% been achieved - utilising 9.6-11.2t DM/ha.
In the below video, Gabriel Trayers gave an insight into the grassland management practices at Newford.
One of the biggest changes seen on Newford farm is the reduction in chemical nitrogen spread. During 2015-2021, in the region of 170kg of nitrogen per hectare was spread annually. This was reduced to 137kg in 2022.
Newford has worked hard on establishing clover swards by over sowing and including clover in grass seed mix when reseeding. Clover has the ability to fix between 50-200kg of nitrogen per hectare annually. Since 2021, 26ha of grassland has been over sown with white clover and it’s planned to over sow a further 12ha with Buddy white clover this year.
Chemical nitrogen fertiliser application date and rate for grass only swards is outlined in Table 1. Newford farm will continue to reduce its dependency on chemical nitrogen as the land containing clover swards continues to increase. It’s important to note white clover does not have the ability to fix nitrogen for the first 12 to 18 months after sowing. Nitrogen fertiliser is important during this period to encourage growth and development. The benefits of a sward containing 20-25% clover is outlined in Table 2, where the dependency on chemical nitrogen is greatly reduced.
Table 1: 2023 fertiliser plan for grass only swards
Table 2: Fertiliser plan for clover swards
The Newford grazing year and early weaning
The last week of January or first week of February usually sees the yearling beef heifers being turned out to grass. Early turn out of these heifers has proved very beneficial in recent years, as it has resulted in a significant reduction in labour, silage and slurry storage requirements. It has resulted in increased growth rates, while reducing concentrate feed.
Generally, 250 grazing days per annum have been achieved on Newford farm. Animals are turned out once ground conditions permit. However, management is flexible on rehousing these animals if ground conditions deteriorate, as the time gained at grass has saved silage and also conditioned the swards for the grazing season ahead.
Average daily gain for male and heifer calves at grass during their first grazing season has been in the region of 1.23-1.30kg/day from birth to weaning. Calves were weaned from their mothers generally from mid-late October. However, since 2019, weaning has taken place during the second week of September and has proved very beneficial in terms of animal performance and grassland management.
An earlier weaning date firstly allows the weaned calves return to grass during generally better weather conditions, which reduces the possibility of pneumonia and weaned calves are more settled at grass.
Secondly, this allows ease of management of the cows because - if ground conditions deteriorate overnight - cows can easily be housed the following morning without any stress. This weaning policy also allows Newford to manage its autumn grazing much better, as the weaned calves can be broken into smaller groups to reduce damaging paddocks during wet weather.
Second season grazing performance has been in the region of 0.8-1kg/day for steers and heifers, respectively. Great progress has been made over the years finishing heifers of grass. A greater focus is now being placed on the possibility of finishing steers off grass and avoiding the second winter. Previous management practices have included introducing concentrate at a rate of 2-3kg/head per day to the most advanced steers from late August and this has resulted in these animals been fit for slaughter from early/mid October.
The Newford Farm was established by Teagasc and Dawn Meats, with the support of McDonald's and the Irish Farmers Journal, to demonstrate best practice in sustainable suckler beef production. This article first appeared in the Newford Suckler Open Day book. Access the full book here.