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Summer Season – Keeping up with the Grass Plant!

Maintaining adequate high quality grass mid-season is the most cost effective way of achieving good animal performance - Anne O’Malley, Drystock Advisor in Ballina has some advice.

Variation in grass growth within and between farms is dependent on several factors, including soil pH, soil fertility, soil type, pasture, location, stocking rate, grazing and weather patterns. Maintaining quality silage and grass during the peak growing season as grass moves from the vegetative to reproductive phase can be a challenge.

The recent good weather is welcome, however, grass growth rates on some drier farms has slowed down and rainfall is needed to address soil moisture deficits. Pasture base Ireland (PBI) is an online grassland decision support service for farmers and grass measurement data can be used to report and monitor grass growth across the country. PBI works in collaboration with Met Eireann to monitor and predicts grass growth on a weekly basis.

Areas that have received adequate rain and heavy soil farms are experiencing normal growth rate for this time of year of 70-80 kg dry matter per hectare (DM/Ha). The focus on grassland management mid –season is to maximise animal performance from grass. Maintaining adequate high quality pasture is the most cost effective way of achieving good animal performance on suckler and cattle farms. Some key points in maintaining high grass quality mid-season:-

  • Walk your grassland weekly, monitor growing conditions and be ready to react to deficits and surpluses.
  • Rotation length mid-season should be 18-21 days under normal growing conditions.
  • The more green leaf content that is present in the sward the higher the feed quality.
  • It is easier for cattle to graze swards of range 1,300-1,600 kg DM/ha (8-10cm) than swards of 2,000-2,200kg DM/ha (12+cm).
  • Graze to 4-5cm post-grazing sward height. Poorly managed swards can have a lot of poor quality stem which reduces animal performance.
  • Removing surplus grass as round bale silage can build up fodder store on farm.
  • Where grass deficits exists on farms due to weather, surplus stock, reduced grazing areas or a combination of factors, the best options must be taken to address this grass deficit. Consult with your local advisor.
  • Apply lime based on soil test results and the optimum soil pH is 6.3. The optimum approach is to take regular soil samples to check pH and nutrient status.
  • A competitive grass sward will compete with weeds and lead to an overall reduction in weed infestation as part of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) control.
  • Topping on farms tends to occur from July onwards in line with environmental schemes. On well managed grassland or on mixed cattle and sheep topping may not be needed.

 Test Grass for Sugars and Nitrates to Aid in Good Preservation of Silage.

Grass Sugars are converted to acid during the anaerobic fermentation process. The target sugar content to ensure good fermentation is 3% or higher and this is measured using a refractometer. Buffering capacity measures the resistance to a drop in pH. High nitrate in grass increases buffering capacity. This can be checked using nitrate test strips. Contact your local Teagasc Office for help.

Farm Safety Message  

If you have 3 or less people working on farm, the Farm Safety Code of Practice i.e. the Code of Practice for Preventing Injury and ill Health in Agriculture can be completed online at www.farmsafely.com