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Grazed Grass is critical to shortening the winter

10 October 2018
Type Media Article

John Maher, Teagasc Grass10

Every day animals are at grass is worth €2/day additional profit. In a difficult year for livestock farmers, animals must be fed the cheapest available feed which is grazed grass.

However, grass supply on farms across the country is very variable. Some farms are swamped in grass which makes grazing out very difficult. Some farms will struggle to have enough grass available for October and will require additional feed to keep animals fed. Irrespective of grass supply on the farm, we must focus now on the next grazing season!

There are two objectives in autumn grazing management of dairy cows. 

Firstly, the animals must be adequately fed using the cheapest available feed which is grazed grass. Every day at grass is worth about €2 per animal/day additional profit.

It is critical that the rotation length is held at a minimum of 30 days on the farm. This will ensure 2 things:

  • that cows have access to grazed grass every day during October/early November
  • grass growth is maximised on the farm

The second objective is set the farm up for spring grass.  Many farmers do not realise that the grazing season begins in the autumn and that autumn management of grazed grass is the primary factor influencing the supply of grass available in spring on any farm.

To provide grass for grazing in early spring, grass has to be carried over from the autumn period due to low grass growth rates during the winter period.  Faraway pastures are always greener and spring grass is a much better feed for a cow than autumn grass.  So it is important that we get the autumn management right so we have a good supply of high quality spring grass available next February.

Start of Closing

The start date of beginning the last rotation in autumn and the cover of grass grazed will have a large influence on the supply of grass available in early spring.  The last rotation needs to be planned to have grass early in spring.  The length of the last rotation should not be greater than 45 days and at least 30 days e. g. Oct 7th to Nov 7th.

The last grazing rotation should begin around October 7-10th for most farms. This date will vary a small bit according to soil type and to a lesser extent with stocking rate. For farms with a difficult soil type closing up should begin in last days of September.

Every 1 week delay past the target of October 10th in closing up the farm will reduce grass supply in spring by 100kgDM/ha. Later closing will also reduce the level of autumn and winter grass growth.

Date when 60% of the farm is closed!

This is a very critical date.  For most farms this is early November.  This is because most of the grass available in early spring has been grown in October.  Very little growth occurs over the winter months so most of the grass available in February and March is carried over from the previous autumn/early winter.  The target is to have about 60-65% of the farm closed up by the first week in November.  For those farms that have a high feed demand in spring, earlier closing up must be considered. This should be over 70% of the farm closed for farms with a higher stocking rate. It is important to carry more grass across the winter for farms with higher stocking rates as demand for feed is higher.

Drier Paddocks/fields with the best access should be targeted to be closed in October as these will carry the most grass. The best paddocks/fields on the farm should not be bare entering the winter.

3 October 2018