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Growth Watch: Managing heavier covers with rain forecast

With the days becoming shorter and rain forecast over the coming week, a key target on beef farms is to maintain grass in the diet for as long as possible. Séan Cummins and Alan Dillon, Teagasc GreenAcres Advisors, discuss this and get updates from programme farmers Irvine Allen and Richard Long.

The Advice

Not only does an extended grazing season shorten the winter housing period, have environmental benefits and means animals are healthier, it has financial rewards. Remember, each additional day at grass is worth €2/LU.

A key target of autumn grassland management is to ensure that the farm is set up for next spring and the practices put in place at farm level now – especially the use of the autumn rotation planner – will help achieve this target.

The principle of the autumn rotation planner is simple – graze ground, close it and have a supply of grass for next spring. But depending on land type, the date of which closing begins will vary.

Farmers operating on heavier type soils need to begin closing this week, with a target of having 60% of the farm closed by late October. Closing should begin on drier land types on October 9, with 60% of the grazing area closed by the end of the first week of October.

In terms of the residuals at grazing, the target is to achieve a post-grazing sward height of 4cm. However, as some farmers are grazing heavier covers currently, this can be challenging.

To help achieve this target and to ensure that high levels of grass utilisation are achieved, there are a number of steps farmers can take when grazing heavier covers in wet conditions and the use of strip wires, back fences and regular moves are recommended.

Where cattle are given unlimited access to a large area of ground during wet weather, the utilisation drops considerably and achieving the post-grazing target will become a challenge.

If conditions do deteriorate quickly, especially on heavier soils, move cattle to drier parts of the farm until a time when the opportunity presents to return to some of the heavier paddocks.

Irvine Allen, Mount Temple, Co. Westmeath

  • Growth: 45kg DM/ha/day
  • Demand: 24kg DM/ha/day
  • Average farm cover: 1,100kg DM/ha
  • Stocking rate: 94LU/ha

Growth has reduced slightly on the previous week, but is still quite strong for the time of year at 45kg DM/ha/day.

My average farm cover is quite high at the moment at 1100kg/ha, but this will be reducing as growth rates drop into October. 

I had spread a bag of 18-6-12 per acre at the closing day in mid-September and have noticed a big response this year due to higher temperatures. My land is quite dry and free draining so I am not overly worried about heavy autumn rain disturbing my grazing plans.

I housed 25 store bullocks a week ago to feed for slaughter in 80 days. They are currently eating 5kg of a high cereal ration per day along with good-quality silage.

They had been eating 2-3kg at grass for three weeks prior to housing to help with diet adjustment and seem to be thriving well.

I am hosting a Teagasc Green Acres farm walk next Tuesday October 5th at 2pm on my farm in Mount Temple, Co. Westmeath, where my journey to better levels of profitability will be outlined. Please ring Teagasc Tullamore on 0579321495 to register for your place.

Richard Long, Ballymacarbry, Co. Waterford

  • Growth: 37kg DM/ha/day
  • Demand: 22kg DM/ha/day
  • Average Farm cover: 934kg DM/ha
  • Stocking rate: 81LU/ha

Although a growth rate of 37kg DM/ha/day was recorded over the past week and the average farm cover is sitting at 934kg DM/ha, I’m expecting a considerable tightening in grass growth over the next couple of weeks as the farm is high, cold and dominated by older swards.

To counteract this and to ensure cattle can be maintained at grass for as long as possible and I’ve a sufficient supply of grass next spring, I’ve began to draft early-maturing heifers, with the first batch achieving an average carcass weight of 261kg this week.

Along with this, I plan on weighing store cattle this week. The reasoning for this is to see how cattle have performed since mid-season and to start bunching cattle for feeding indoors. Any animals that are within 60-90 days will be housed and finished indoors, while the lighter animals will be maintained at grass until they are heavy enough to start feeding.

This system worked well on the farm here last year as it meant that all of the finishing cattle were sold of farm before the arrival of calves in the spring, which helped in terms of workload greatly as I’m working full-time off farm.

The Teagasc GreenAcres Programme Advisors have regular contributions here on Teagasc Daily. You might also like to keep up to date by signing up to their e-newsletter. Find out more about the Teagasc GreenAcres Calf to Beef Programme here.