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Maintaining Quality in the Grass Sward

Alan Nolan, Drystock Advisor, Teagasc Ballinrobe has excellent practical advice on maintaining quality in the grass sward. The key message is to take some simple steps now to maintain grass quality and Alan lists these here. Walking the farm every week to monitor grass supply and quality is key

After a slow spring this year, there has being a real surge in grass growth in the past two weeks.  On farms that were tight for grass this is a welcome turn-around.  However, it also poses challenges.  The downside of a surge in growth is grass quality will decline unless some action is taken.  The more green leaf content that is present in the sward the higher the feed quality.  But, maintaining high leaf content in the grass sward is a big challenge at this time of year. 

Walk your farm

The focus on beef and sheep farms is to maximise animal performance from grass. Keeping high quality leafy grass in front of stock is the most cost effective way of achieving good animal performance on cattle and sheep farms.

The key message is to take some steps now to maintain grass quality

Right now the key thing is to know how much grass you have ahead of stock.  So walk the farm every week and estimate the number of days grass supply currently on the farm.  At this time of year the target is 12-14 days ahead.  If you are above this figure grass quality will start to deteriorate.  So now is the time to take action to correct fields that have a high proportion of stem.

So how do I maintain grass quality especially in times of peak growth?

  • Try to maintain pre-grazing swards of 1,300-1,600 kg DM/ha (8-10cm). Going into swards heavier than this and it will be very hard to get a good clean out of the sward and there will be poor grass utilisation. 
  • Graze to a 4-5cm post-grazing sward height. Use lower priority stock such as dry hoggets or ewes or autumn calving suckler cows to clean out swards. 
  • Remove surplus grass as round bale silage. This will allow you to skip fields with the heaviest and poorest quality swards.  By taking these fields out as silage it makes it easier for you to maintain the correct pre-grazing heights, which in turn makes it easier to achieve the correct post grazing heights. This silage will also be high quality and will help build up silage reserves on farm following low 1st cut yields. 
  • Grazing fields can also be cut out with long term silage crops. This may be an easier option where you are relying on contractors who will be very busy at present.
  • Use temporary electric fencing to split larger fields. This will allow better grass utilisation and allow a part or section of a larger field to be cut out for round bales.
  • Topping on farms is also an option to remove excess stemmy grass. Remember to top down low to 4cm so that you promote a fresh leafy re-growth.  Topping should be done straight after cattle leave the field so as not to affect the re-growth.  Beware of GLAS obligations and restrictions when topping.
  • On lowly stocked farms where grass demand is low it is best to ease off on fertiliser applications now, as there is point growing extra grass that is not needed.

The key message is to take some steps now to maintain grass quality.  Walk the farm weekly to monitor both grass supply and quality.  We still have a long grazing season ahead and we want to maximise the amount of weight gain we can achieve off grass for the rest of the grazing season.

For more on this topic have a listen to John Maher's this week's BeefEdge podcast below

If you liked this article you might like to read Target Grazing Covers on Beef Farms

Teagasc Advisors are regular contributors of articles to Teagasc Daily. You can contact any of our Teagasc offices using this link Teagasc Advisory Regions here