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The Importance of the 1st spring grazing

The Importance of the 1st spring grazing

This week, Sandra Hayes, co-ordinator of the Teagasc/Tirlán Future Farm Programme, visited John and Shane Fitzgerald of Portlaw, Co. Waterford, Teagasc Tirlán Future Farmers, to assess how well the first grazing rotation of 2023 was going.

The farm achieved 33% grazed by the end of February - the first part of the Spring Rotation Planner. The next third of the farm has to be grazed by St. Patrick's Day and the remaining third grazed from mid-March to usually the first week of April or when ‘magic day’ arrives. Magic day in grass terms is when the growth rate on the farm matches the herd demand for grass.

Poor weather and small numbers calved sometimes makes it more difficult to graze the first third of the farm. However, this spring had perfect grazing conditions. Shane has over 60% calved and the cows are grazing by day and night since the end of January. The only cows on silage are those that are freshly calved for four days post calving before they join the grazing herd. They are receiving 4kg of meal in the parlour and as much grass as they can graze. Shane has allocated a daily allowance based on what cover of grass is available plus the stocking rate of each couple of days. Following the rotation plan makes sure he stays on target - not to graze too much or too little. Too much allocated means he could run out of grass before regrowths are sufficient and too little allocated could impact on cow’s intake and not getting all the ground grazed before early April.

‘First round is for the grass, second round is for the cows’

We are often asked why the farm should aim to get the first third grazed and its importance. At this time of year, growth rates are low as there is a lower amount of daylight hours and soil temperature is below 5°C. The grass plant needs light into the base of the plant, soil temperatures to rise, adequate amounts of nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) to regrow to a cover sufficient for cows to graze in April. Therefore, the 40-60 days from early February to early April is required for this to happen.

Also as Shane explained to me, grazing these early paddocks tightly removes any dead grass material and it sets the paddocks up for the rest of the year; hence his saying "first round is for the grass and the second is for the cows". Grazing this early also increases the number of grazings per paddock, with the aim being 10 per year. The more grass grown and eaten and/or conserved means less dependency on meal and/or silage, which saves money for the farm. Having this third grazed means Shane has got the chance to apply 2500 gallons/acre of slurry. This early NPK helps repair the grass plant and increases growth rate.

I asked Shane why he likes to get ground grazed early. This year with weather conditions being so good, he got wetter paddocks grazed that he usually doesn’t get grazed until late March. It also means with cows out day and night, he has less work in liming cubicles. More importantly, it sets the cow up in increasingly her fat and protein percentages. So far this year, he can see an improvement in the milk solids per cow compared to last year. It also means that less silage is needed, so there is a saving there. It takes the pressure off slurry storage, as cows are not in the sheds. Also it leads to greater cleanliness of the cows at milking time, which is good for reducing mastitis at this time of the year. Overall this spring has been better for the cows and definitely better for the farmer.

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For more information of the Teagasc/Tirlán Future Farm Programme, click here.