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Future Beef farmers take opportunity to commence grazing

Future Beef farmers take opportunity to commence grazing

Aisling Molloy, Future Beef Programme Advisor, asks: Is there an opportunity for you to save feed, save money and increase performance by letting stock out on your farm? She also provides an update from Ger McSweeney's farm in Co. Cork.

With calving well underway on the farm, Ger McSweeney’s attention is moving towards turnout on his farm in Tooreenbawn, Millstreet, Co. Cork. He turned out 17 maiden heifers (pictured above) to grass on February 1, as the weather forecast was settled and ground conditions were good.

While the weather forecast is unsettled for the rest of this week, these heifers will be followed by calved cows and calves next week. He aims to graze all paddocks once by April 17, which is also known as the first rotation. This will be achieved by grazing 30% by mid-March, 60% by early April and 100% by April 17, and can be monitored on PastureBase Ireland. The benefits of following this spring rotation plan for Ger are to:

  • Graze off winter covers (average farm cover is 761kg DM/ha);
  • Maximise grass growth;
  • ‘Wake the grass up’ and encourage it to start growing;
  • Produce good quality grass for the second rotation;
  • Save silage and money as the heifers are eating 2.5 bales of silage per week;
  • Reduce labour from feeding and bedding;
  • Provide better quality feed into the weanlings so that they can gain more weight.

Figure 1: Spring rotation plan targets can be tracked on PBI

Graphic showing a spring rotation plan being tracked

Benefits of spring grass and fertilsier plans

According to AgNav, every extra week at grass reduces Ger’s carbon footprint by 1.9%. He will graze drier paddocks first at less than 800kg DM/ha and, if weather allows, will move to wetter paddocks and/or heavier covers. The paddocks will receive 23 units/acre of protected urea in late February when ground temperatures are over 5oC and weather conditions are suitable. They will receive a further 23 units of protected urea per acre in mid-March.

If the weather gets very wet or cold, Ger has no issue re-housing his weanlings and is keen to emphasise the importance of having a plan B when grazing early and being flexible.

The silage ground on the out block was grazed tightly in November and Ger dos not plan to graze it this spring so that it can be cut in early to mid-May to improve silage quality. There is a cover of 500-600kg DM/ha and traditionally it wasn’t grazed until mid to late March, which has delayed silage cutting. This year, it will receive 2500 gallons of slurry per acre, along with 1 bag of 0-7-30 per acre and 2 bags of protected urea (38% N) with sulphur. This will provide 94 units of nitrogen, 19.5 units of phosphorus, 105 units of potassium and 14 units of sulphur to the first-cut silage.

Slurry will be spread little and often from mid-February on the rented ground. It will also be spread on grazing ground after cattle have grazed it.

Ger’s tasks for February are to:

  • Get heifers out to graze;
  • Measure grass to establish an opening cover;
  • Adjust some paddock areas on PBI and on the ground;
  • Add new water troughs and fence the field where the new hedge is being planted for ACRES.

Turnout commences

Meanwhile, on other Future Beef farms around the country, younger cattle have been turned out to grass since the end of January.

Figure 2: Breeding heifers at grass on Aonghusa Fahy’s farm in Ardrahan, Co. Galway

Breeding heifers at grass on Aonghusa Fahys farm in Galway

Figure 3: Weanling heifers and bullocks at grass on James Skehan’s farm in Ballynevin, Bridgetown, Killaloe, Co. Clare

breeding heifers on James Shehans farm 625 x 400

Figure 4: Breeding heifers are grazing silage fields on Eamon and Donnchadh McCarthy’s farm in Glendine, Youghal, Co. Waterford

Breeding heifers are grazing silage fields on Eamon and Donnchadh McCarthys farm 2024

Figure 5: Breeding and beef heifers have started grazing on Ruairi Cummins’ farm at Rossenarra, Kilmoganny, Co. Kilkenny

breeding and beef heifers on Ruairi Cummins farm in Co Kilkenny 2024

Figure 6: Yearlings gazing paddocks which are earmarked for slurry next month on Michael McGuigan’s farm in Longwood, Co. Meath

yearling heifers at grass on Michael McGuigans farm in Co. Meath

Soil temperatures

Soil temperatures have also increased across the Future Beef farms. Grass will start growing from 6oC soil temperature, clover will grow from 8oC and nitrogen is taken up by the grass plant from 5.5oC.

Both John Pringle in Aughrim, Co. Wicklow, and Proinnsias Creedon in Clondrohid, Macroom, Co. Cork, recorded soil temperatures of 8.1oC on Saturday, February 3. Meanwhile, Kay O’Sullivan in Mourneabbey, Mallow, Co. Cork, recorded 9.1oC on her farm.

Figure 7: A soil thermometer is a useful way to check the soil temperature on your farm

soil thermometer

Further information on the Future Beef Programme is available here.