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Careful management required to ensure grass supplies are maintained


Lambing for the lowland Teagasc BETTER farm sheep flocks is all but complete at this stage. The focus has now firmly turned to ensuring the flock is performing at grass. Researcher Frank Campion has advice on managing grass given the current cold weather.

Grass growth during the month of April has been variable with cold weather for the time of year and frost at nights slowing grass growth. Currently grass supplies on the farms are on target but careful management is required to ensure this remains the case. In particular this is important on farms with higher stocking rates with high grass demand at this time of year.

Importance of the autumn plan

Starting the year with adequate grass supplies is essential to ensure that grazing management and ultimately flock performance can be optimised. The benefits of having an autumn closing plan became very clear in the spring. This spring where despite weather and soil conditions delaying first fertilizer applications until the first week of March, average farm cover for most of the flocks was on target. Second rounds of fertilizer are going on at present with most of the flocks going with one bag 18-6-12 per acre for grazing ground.

Key management task 

A key management task during the last couple of weeks for the flocks has been grouping up ewes and lambs into larger groups and using temporary divisions where necessary to improve grass utilisation, reduce residency times in paddocks and to give paddocks a chance to recover ahead of the next round of grazing.

The temptation is always there to leave ewes and lambs in smaller groups but once lambs are a couple of weeks old the number of groups on the farm needs to be reduced. Not grouping up leads to large parts of the farm being grazed at the same time which reduces grass growth and farm cover. This becomes particularly important as grass demand rises after lambing and grass growth rates are lower than grass demand for a lot of farms still.

Closing paddocks for silage

Some of the flocks have also begun closing off paddocks for silage but unless grass growth rates increase in the coming week some flocks may need to re-graze some of this ground in order to maintain grass in front of stock. Target days ahead for this time of year is 20 days and the average for the group is currently 21 based on last week’s grass measurements.

Supplementation

Supplementation will help extend the grazing rotation and avoid running out of grass before grass growth rates improve. This comes at a cost and means extra labour and at an already busy time so it will only be done where absolutely necessary. At this stage of the year most of the lowland flocks will have passed peak milk yield in the ewes so supplementation if needed will be targeted at the lambs rather than the ewes. 

PastureBase Ireland

All the lowland flocks are using PastureBase Ireland and this data is invaluable throughout the year for making grazing decisions but particularly at times when grass supply and demand is finely balanced. Grass growth rates for the second week of April were averaging 27 kg DM/Ha/day but there was a wide range in this going from 11kg DM/Ha up to 57kg DM/ha, highlighting the importance of each farmer walking his own farm before making grazing decisions.

For more on the BETTER Farm Sheep Programme click here

Read more on Grassland Management for Sheep here