Gearing up for grazing 2021
Weeks of poor grass growth leading to shortfall in grass supply versus demand has been difficult. As grass is now at or near heading stage, quality needs managing. Improving grazing infrastructure on farm allows better control of grass. Catherine Egan Beef Specialist explains exactly how to do this
The past few weeks have been difficult on many farms with poorer grass growths leading to shortfall in grass supply versus demand. However, grass growth is improving day by day & as grass is now in the heading stage on many farms it is important to remain proactive to ensure grass quality is maintained during this period.
Improving grazing infrastructure on farm allows better control of grass, increased grass growth and improved animal performance. This is particularly visible during poor weather conditions and in both the spring- and autumn-growing seasons. Cattle are easier to manage and become more docile, which is particularly important in a one person operation. Grass utilised on farms can be increased by either growing more grass and/or improving the utilisation rate.
On many drystock farms, there are too few paddocks per grazing group. As a result, cattle are grazing paddocks for too long. The productivity is then significantly reduced. In this scenario, farmers often find that regrowths are not protected and are continually grazed hindering growth rates. On the other hand, cattle are grazing excessively high covers resulting in poor utilisation. As a result, fields have to be topped to clean off the heavy residual.
Dividing fields into paddocks need not be an elaborate or high-cost project. In the majority of cases, reels and poly wire can be used to temporarily split fields for grazing. Having adequate drinkers in fields is very important to allow subdivision.
Dividing fields into paddocks need not be an elaborate or high-cost project
Key steps when setting up a paddock system
1. Create a farm map with precise areas
The first step is create a map of the farm. Ungrazeable areas, walls, ditches and hedgerows will influence where paddocks and farm roadways will go. Talk to your advisor about developing a farm map or use your own paper map. There are also a number of free maps online and apps that can help to map the farm.
2. Paddock size
The aim on beef and sheep farms is to grow grass in three weeks and graze it in three days. Three-day paddocks are the goal. A common question is: How large should paddocks be? As a rule of thumb, a group of 40 suckler cows and 40 weanlings grazing on free-draining, productive ground should be allocated a 2ha paddock. The plan is to have seven to eight paddocks per grazing group. Avoid creating long narrow paddocks to minimise poaching. Aim for a ratio of 2:1 so that paddocks are twice as long as they are wide.
3. Plan out drinking points when dividing fields
Trough location in the paddock is very important. Avoid locating troughs near gateways. Ensure to position water troughs in a central location in the field, which means each one can serve a minimum of two paddocks. Ensure the drinker is positioned on level ground and balanced with some hardcore where necessary. In some cases, splitting fields like the spokes of a wheel from the drinker will ensure that cattle continue to have access to water while getting regular allocations of grass. Alternatively, you could divide larger, square fields, into four, with one drinker serving many paddocks. This option is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Paddock divisions
4. Farm roadways
Roadways allow more efficient access to paddocks. They enable easier movement and management of livestock around the farm. Roadways also allow for easier management of grass during difficult grazing conditions. Ultimately, farm budgets will determine which roadway type is chosen. Every farm budget will be catered for at the open day, from very low-cost livestock roadways to more expensive machinery roadway.
Tune in to the Beef Edge podcast to hear from Michael McManus, Derrypatrick herd manager the discuss breeding season and how he is managing grass at the moment.
For more episodes and information covered on the Beef Edge, visit the show page at: www.teagasc.ie/thebeefedge
For further information on the topic of grazing infrastructure see Beef farm Infrastructure Book
The Teagasc Beef Specialists issue an article on a topic of interest to suckler & cattle farmers every Wednesday here on Teagasc Daily
You can contact any of our Teagasc offices using this link Teagasc Advisory Regions here