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February Grass, Opportunities and Challenges

22 February 2019
Type Media Article

By Michael Donoghue, B&T Dairy Adviser, Teagasc Galway/Clare

Grazing grass represents Irish farmer’s greatest advantage in livestock production. It costs 3 to 4 times less than either silage or meal, stock perform better and labour input is drastically reduced. After one of the mildest winters on record most farmers have a great supply of spring grass and in general ground conditions are very good. This represents a great opportunity but also a challenge.

Spring Grazing Plan

  • 33% grazed by 1st March
  • 33% grazed by 20th March
  • 100% grazed by 10th April

The above grazing plan is a very good guide and every farmer can adopt it to their own farm. The principles behind it are very simple

  1. To get grass into animal’s diet early in the spring
  2. To start your farm growing
  3. To ensure you have enough grass to start the second round in April.

One the more challenging aspect of the above plan is to get 33% of the farm grazed in February, especially this year as there is a lot of grass. However getting 33% grazed in February is vital to ensure there is enough grass to start the 2nd round on roughly the 10th April. The fields grazed in February will have 40 to 60 days to recover so taking a growth of 20 Kg/day as an average over the period there should be 1,000Kg of cover to start grazing the second round.

The key to getting this amount of ground grazed in February when in a dairy scenario, not all cows are calved and appetites are small, is to get out even if only for 2 hours, go to low covers and use other stock if required, i.e. replacements.  The importance of this cannot be over stated as failure to graze enough in February will result in shortages in April.

The second third to be grazed from roughly 1st March to 20th March should be more straight forward as day length is increasing, stock are eating more and are more settled. The last third to be grazed will require a bit more management as this might have to be speeded up or slowed down depending on the growth. If growth has been good in March and the farm is actively growing, the first round can be finished 5 to 10 days earlier but if, like last year, the spring is poor the first round may well have to be extended till the 15th or 20th April to give grass a chance.

The above highlights the grazing targets over the next 2 months that should ensure stock get access to high quality cheap spring grass while also ensuring there will be enough grass for April. Allied to this will be good soil fertility management and having a flexible approach to management over the evitable wet weather.