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Is your Autumn Rotation Planner on track?

Is your Autumn Rotation Planner on track? This is the question Martina Harrington, Beef Specialist asks in mid October, to check in with our Autumn Rotation Planner. She outlines targets & reasons why hitting the targets are important while Terry Carroll, Advisor explains the 60:40 planner

October is the most important month in the grassland calendar, it is also the trickiest. You have to keep one eye on making sure you get wet and dry ground grazed off cleanly and closed before the weather changes. The other eye is looking forward to next spring to ensure you have the right paddocks closed at the right time to be able to get stock out early next spring and have enough grass to be able to leave them out. It is not an exact science but, all we can do is put our best plan in place and for the most part it works out.

So what is the plan?

It’s called the Autumn Rotation Planner!

This plan is based on the premise that weather conditions are still favourable for grass growth in October. So the paddocks that are closed in October will grow grass and this grass will be available next February/March for grazing. Therefore it is critical that 60% is closed in time.

The last paddocks closed in November won’t be grazed until nearly April next year; there will be enough growth over the winter and in the spring to put a cover on those before grazing.

The autumn rotation planner is purely based on area and percentages.

Heavy vs Dry farms

On heavier ground we start earlier to ensure we have 80% closed by the first week in November. Heavier ground is colder so grass stops growing here first and is slower to start in the spring. We also want to avoid where ground conditions deteriorate and we can’t graze out paddocks. So today, the 13th of October, you should have very close to 50% of your farm closed if you are on heavy ground.  

On the drier farms we start a week later as we won’t run into the same issues. So if your land is all fairly dry today you should have almost 30% of your farm closed. If you have mixed land, you will be somewhere in between. 

What paddocks should you close first?

You want to close paddocks in accordance to how you hope to graze them next spring. When you come out you want to graze medium covers, 800 – 1200kgs DM/ha. The reason for the lower cover is to train animals back into cleaning out paddocks. If you have very heavy covers they will just walk them into the ground in the first two weeks. So the ones first grazed will be the ones closed in the latter part of October. You can then move into heavier covers which give bulk on the farm, these are the paddocks closed in early October. Then by the middle to late March you are grazing what was closed in November and grew mostly in the spring. See diagram below.

Why bother with an Autumn Rotation Planner?

Every day at grass is worth €1.80 per day. If you have 40 cows, that’s a saving of €72 per day. So if you can get an extra week at grass that is a €504 saving, an extra fortnight will be €1,008. You have healthier animals, better performance and less slurry/fym to apply next year.

You will have grass earlier next spring which gives you options.

  • You can turn out stock you intend finishing and get them gone off the farm quicker.
  • You could turn out cows and calves to relieve pressure in your sheds and have healthier animals.
  • A dry suckler cow has a much lower requirement for energy than a calved cow, the early spring grass will provide this and you won’t have to feed meal
  • The earlier turn out will mean cows are on a higher plane of nutrition, more settled and should go in calf quicker
  • You can plan your grazing to have your silage ground grazed at the right time, closed earlier and get better quality silage.

All are very achievable and much more probable if you put a plan in place.

What do you need to do today?

If you have a plan in place, check and see if you are on target. If not make changes to rectify the problem            

If you are ahead of target, slow down by

  • housing some animals,
  • adding in extra meal to reduce intake
  • grazing the heaviest covers

If you are ahead of target, speed up by

  • grazing lighter covers first – 60% target is key to having grass next spring
  • ensure all animals are out grazing.

If you haven’t a plan in place do one now! It may be more difficult on heavier ground but try. See what paddocks fit into the brackets above. You still have time to change your grazing rotation and graze fields in line with the diagram above. You will have started and it will make doing a plan next year easier. It will also focus your mind next spring as to what paddocks you are grazing and when.

Watch as Terry Carroll, Teagasc Advisor explains the 60 40 Autumn Rotation Planner and talks about setting up for the final grazing rotation beginning in early October. Topics up for discussion include: identifying the correct fields for spring turnout which will be among the first closed this autumn, and good graze-out of paddocks. Joe Day, Beef teacher at Kildalton College outlines the practical use of the Autumn Rotation Planner on the college suckler beef farm.

The Teagasc Beef Specialists issue an article on a topic of interest to suckler & cattle farmers every Wednesday here on Teagasc Daily  

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