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Planning for the end of the grazing season

Beef Specialist Alan Dillon outlines how to manage Autumn grazing and fertilsation of grassland on the beef farm under different scenarios based on whether land is wet or dry. Plan to have a supply of grass into the autumn while also preparing for next spring grazing.

The country is divided very much with regards how easy a year it was to manage grass. From a very wet February which allowed no one out to graze to an early summer drought which persisted a bit longer in the north and west than in the south of the country, to a very poor late summer and autumn which has resulted in farmers on heavier land having to house cows and older stock for periods to allow land to dry out. Farmers on more free draining soils have fared much better with the warm damp conditions creating a “glasshouse type” effect meaning grass grew at much higher rates than expected for the time of year.

This now leads to beef farmers facing two different scenarios based on whether land is wet or dry.

Dry land

The last round of fertilizer should be spread by now or if not you still have until September 15th to do so. In reality there is no benefit in waiting to spread as the return from spreading will be diminishing by the day as days get cooler and nights longer.

For farmers on dry land with plenty of grass ahead, the question may be on whether to spread nitrogen or not on the whole farm and may be a case of selecting particular fields that will give an economic response to nitrogen. Select dry paddocks with a high proportion of perennial ryegrass in the sward and good soil fertility that will give a good response and will be available to graze later in the autumn should conditions remain challenging. If you are carrying low to moderate stocking rate (1.2-1.6 LU/ha), possibly 30-40% of the land being covered with 25 units of Nitrogen will suffice. Farmers need to be aiming for around 30 days grass ahead at this time of year so if you budget at having less than 30 days ahead currently consider spreading more of the farm now.

Farmers with a higher stocking rate (>2/lu/ha or higher) will need to consider spreading the vast majority of their farm with 25-30 units of N. Wetter paddocks which can’t be grazed if conditions remain challenging should be skipped and more emphasis paid to the better paddocks on the farm.

Heavy land

On heavier farms where some or all stock have been indoors, consider targeting some of the drier paddocks with 25 units of N. Presuming weather may improve in the autumn at some stage, it is important to have some supply of grass to graze. The situation you want to avoid is having land dry up in late September with little grass on the farm.

Some lower stocked farms have not received nitrogen for a number of months and these grass swards have become quite yellow in colour and will need some nitrogen to grow on into the autumn. If land is still wet then continue to house heavier stock. There is little point damaging land now and walking grass into the ground when we may get a chance to clean out swards properly in a few weeks’ time. Action can be taken now in this situation to get some stock back out grazing. February or march born calves could be weaned at this stage and put back out to grass. Cows can be held in until weather improves on moderate quality forage such as hay or late first cut silage.

Thoughts need to turn also to the autumn rotation planner on beef farms. While it may be difficult to graze swards out properly now and target closing up for the winter, farmers should avoid a situation where they end up closing with too little or too much grass. What situation you are in will depend on how land is holding up.

Target closing up swards from around October 10th with the aim being to have 60% of the farm grazed and closed up for the winter by the first week of November.

The remaining 40% can be grazed over the remaining 4 weeks as weather and stocking rate allows. It is important not to be tempted to regraze the early closed paddocks in November or December as these swards will be what provides grass to your farm next spring.

Graze out these swards as close to 4 cm as possible and try and avoid poaching the land. Land that is damaged badly in the autumn will hold water for the winter period and render it untrafficable next spring.


Whatever your current situation regarding grass supply and condition of land, ensure and take action now to have a supply of grass into the autumn while also preparing for next spring grazing. Talk to your advisor regarding whether to spread fertilizer now and how much to spread. Stocking rate, current grass supply and land type will all have a big bearing on the decision you make.