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A win for grazing and a win for winter feed

A win for grazing and a win for winter feed

Looking back to two weeks ago, conditions were closer to winter than they were summer. But the past week of sunshine has brought a well needed break from the thundery showers and heavy rainfall experienced across the country during March and April.

In this article, John Douglas, Grass10 Grassland Specialist Advisor, looks at ways that farmers can correct grass quality on their farms while also boosting winter feed supplies.

With the weather on our side, many farmers have been correcting grass quality on their farms. Unfortunately we have been noticing many farms doing this in a manner that reduces grass growth and wastes valuable feed. Namely by topping (or post-mowing paddocks). Topping may need to play a role in a small number of instances later in the summer, but widespread use of it across your farm now is putting you at higher risk, and I’ll explain why.

Understandably with challenging grazing conditions over the past two months, there is a lot of correction required to get grass quality back on top for both dairy and drystock farms. During this same period many farms ate through their remaining silage surplus and even had to buy fodder onto the farm. So effectively they hadn’t enough surplus built to deal with a long winter, and last year’s drought didn’t help that either. So this year, many farms have no silage reserve left over. So a key priority must be to restock silage reserves as soon as possible.

Part of any good strategy to do this should include baling of surplus grass from the grazing platforms as soon as they’re ready to do so (1600+ KgDM/ha). It is a no-brainer. Because it gives you a double benefit. Firstly, it ensures animals are grazing the correct pre-grazing yields (1300-1400 KgDM/ha) or 10cm high. PastureBase Ireland data is indicating pre grazing yields of 1600-1700 kg DM/ha. Grazing 1300-1400 kg DM/ha is high quality grass with less stem and is the most profitable way to graze. Secondly, the surplus grass that is not required for grazing, and which includes a lot more stem, is baled off paddocks as soon as possible for restocking the silage reserves.

Not every solution in farming gives you a win-win; but this solution does. A win for grazing, and a win for winter.

You might think you’ve a lot of grass quality correcting to do and you can’t bale everything the same week, and this is very true so we have to be practical. So the best thing to do with heavy or stemmy paddocks, which can’t be baled this time is let them graze the best grass off it and earmark this paddock to be removed for bales in the next rotation.

The other alternatives are: force animals to graze the paddock which reduces animal performance; pre-mow which reduces animal performance and is difficult to manage; or top which wastes valuable feed and slows down grass growth. Topping (or post-grazing mowing) paddock after paddock reduces grass growth on the farm and increases the risk of running tight on grass in the next few weeks, which may actually be of concern especially to drier farms as low rainfall is forecast. Topping is not the route to go down when there is a feed gap to be filled.

There is a fear that if ‘too many’ paddocks are baled (and this is down to an individual’s perception), that the farm will run tight and this fear causes sub-optimal animal performance and more work to ‘clean up’ paddocks. The safest thing to do with a surplus is to bale out as soon as possible. This grass will grow back fast if cut straight away and be ready for grazing. Ensure to replace P and K offtakes with slurry or compound (about 4 bales/ac = 1000 gal/ac of slurry with LESS). Holding off and letting it bulk up is a bad idea. So if in doubt, bale it out.

For more information on the Grass10 Campaign, click here.