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Grazing heavy covers on beef farms


Some farmers are now dealing with heavier covers than usual on farm, whether from an increase in growth rate or a late turnout to grass. Once pre-grazing yields go over 1600kgDM/Ha, grass quality drops and reduced liveweight gain in cattle. Mícheál Kelly, Teagasc Athenry Advisor has grazing advice

Some farmers are now dealing with heavier covers than usual on farm, whether it is from an increase in growth rate or being late getting to grass. Some silage ground has been closed without being grazed and although some fields or paddocks can be removed as surplus bales to get the rotation back on track, not all fields are suitable for cutting.

Once pre-grazing yields go over 1600kgDM/Ha, we see a drop in grass quality and reduced liveweight gain in cattle. Although the temptation might be there to leave the cattle longer in the field to clean out heavier covers, this will reduce grass production in the field, increase wastage and lead to quality issues in the next grazing rotation. Quality can be improved by topping but this adds labour and costs to the farm when we have the option to make the cattle do the work for us.

What you can do

Allocating an area of the field to the stock will force them to graze tighter. Spring calving suckler cows will not be affected by grazing heavier covers in the short term and their calves’ intake of grass will be low at this time as they are mainly reliant on milk. Autumn born calves will have a higher grass intake but these can be allowed to creep graze under the wire, ensuring they get first preference on quality grass while getting the cows to graze down tighter.

Access to water

A simple step in the wire with longer temporary posts allows the calves to go ahead but restricts the cows. Access to water is essential at all times. Ideally you would have central water troughs to allow you to subdivide fields easily while protecting your regrowths. Where the water trough is at the end or the corner of the field, temporary wires can be setup to allow cattle access back to water, while also excluding them from previously grazed areas.

Keep rotating

Where cattle are set stocked in a field, they will automatically graze the leafier regrowths ahead of the stronger grass when given the choice. This increases the recovery time and reduces the overall grass production in the field for the year. To get back on track we need to keep the cattle moving forward through covers. If we do not get the perfect residual through block grazing in this rotation, letting the cattle back into the field at a lighter cover on the next rotation will bring our grass quality back to where we want it.

Watch as Mícheál demonstrates grazing tips in the video below 

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You might like to read more on Grazing Infrastructure here.

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