February Grass - Opportunities and Challenges
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 is better and labour input is drastically reduced. After a wet but mostly mild winter most farmers have a great supply of spring grass. On Pasturebase Average Farm Cover, AFC, for Galway is around 900 Kg DM/ Ha, so the grass is there but as always ground conditions will be a challenge especially in February and early March.
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. On heavy farms or if the spring comes wet, a week to 10 days could be added to the targets. Conversely on dry farms or if the spring comes dry, the targets can be brought forward by a week or so.
The principles behind it are very simple:
- To get grass into animal’s diet early in the spring
- To start your farm growing
- To ensure you have enough grass to start the second round in April.
One of the more challenging aspects 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 1,000 Kg 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 speed up or slowed down depending on the growth. If growth has been good in March and the farm is actively growing, the 1st round can be finished 5 to 10 days earlier. However if growth is poor the first round may well have to be extended till the 15th or 20th April to give grass a chance. The key here is to walk your farm, know what grass you have, never let the AFC drop below 500 Kg DM/ Ha and make sure the 1st couple of paddocks at the start of the 2nd round have a cover of at least 1,000 Kg DM/ Ha.
Feeding the grass plant in February and March will also be key to driving grass growth. The fertiliser plan below is driven by maximising grass growth, without compromising the environment. One round of fertiliser is replaced with slurry and protected urea is used to help lower Irish agricultures GHG emissions.
- 2,500 gallons of slurry per acre should be put on the lower grass covers when ground conditions allow.
- ½ bag of protected urea per acre should be applied on the higher covers again when conditions are suitable
- For the lower covers, that were grazed in Feb or early March apply 2,500 gallons of slurry per acre
- 1 bag of protected urea per acre should be applied towards the middle or end of March when conditions are suitable.
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. Probable the greatest key to achieving above is been flexible, letting cows out if only for 2 or 3 hours, on-off grazing and walking your farm are just some of the things you can do to improve your farm profits.