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Spring Grassland Management on DairyBeef 500 Farms

Spring Grassland Management on DairyBeef 500 Farms

Grazed grass will continue to be the cheapest feed available to beef animals. Turning animals out early to spring grass will improve animal performance and reduce cost of production.

DairyBeef 500 farm walks took place on the farms of James O'Sullivan in Cork and Gareth Peoples in Donegal over the last week. Advice to those attending included spring grassland management. 

Early grass

The alternatives to growing and utilising grass will not make economic sense as concentrate prices have increased and the cost of replacing silage has increased. Early grazing enables the animal to feed itself and spreads its own slurry.

Grazing plan

There is a grazing plan required to make the most of early spring grass. The lighter animals should be turned out first to grass as early as possible. Grazing the paddocks with the lowest cover of grass needs to be targeted to get started. Paddocks with covers of grass of about 700-1000 KgDM/ha are the most suitable. These are ideal for training/conditioning the animals to graze. These paddocks are also much faster to recover or regrow. Another advantage of grazing low cover grass is that if grass is left behind or dirtied, the future grass quality will be fine if these are grazed out well in April.

Most of the grazing ground should be targeted first. If the silage ground is to be grazed then it should be targeted for grazing in early March. This facilitates spreading of slurry for silage production. However, on many dairy-beef farms, the demand for grass is low, so often the silage ground doesn’t need to be grazed. This approach is practised in the dairy beef programme in Grange.


Wet days arrive every spring so a plan has to be put in place to deal with these days. The driest paddocks with the lowest covers of grass need to be used on these days to ensure animals can still graze. Flexibility in approach is required to avoid damage. Sometimes smaller groups work better. Having fresh grass allocated or made available every day may also help. It is important to avoid long narrow strips of grass allocation as this encourages a lot of walking.

James O'Sullivan

James O’Sullivan farms 31 hectares in West Cork. The farm is split into two blocks with 10 hectares located at Leap and the remaining 21 hectares located on Myross Island near Union Hall. Most of the land is extremely dry free draining soils, which is a huge advantage to keeping costs down in a calf to beef system. The dry soil type allows grazing to begin by early February most years and this can extend into early winter with weanlings grazing off covers prior to housing.

Gareth Peoples

Farming in Drumlougher, Co. Donegal, Gareth Peoples and his family, run a mixed farm consisting of both tillage and dairy calf to beef enterprises. Farming a total of 79.5ha all of which is in one block. The grassland area extends to just shy of 50ha with the remaining ground dedicated to the tillage enterprise.

The land’s proximity to the yard brings benefits in terms of grassland management and Gareth has made improvements in this regard since enrolling in the campaign last summer. To date, all of the grazing fields have been subdivided with both permanent and temporary fencing; extra water troughs have also been installed. Along improving grazing infrastructure 14ac of reseeding was carried out in 2022 with plans for further reseeding works to take place this year.

The booklet from the farm walks is available here Farm Walk Booklet James O'Sullivan, Cork and Gareth Peoples, Donegal 2024 (pdf)

Get more information on the DairyBeef 500 programme