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Managing and Utilizing Grass in the Mid-Season

11 May 2022
Type Media Article

Cathal Conaty, Drystock Advisor, Teagasc Claremorris

Maximising animal performance from an all grass diet is the main goal in midsummer grazing. Grass growth has improved recently with an average of 51kg DM/ha/day given at the beginning of this week for the Mayo region. With increased growth, grass deficits are less likely to be a problem on most farms.  The main problem is likely to be underutilisation of the farms cheapest feed. This leads to lower quality pastures with poor quality stemmy grass and as a result reduced animal performance. Maintaining high quality leafy pasture is the most cost effective way of achieving good animal performance.

Key Steps to maintaining high grass quality in mid-season are:

  • Keeping the rotation length to 18-21 days.
  • Target pre-grazing yields between 1,500 - max 2,000kg DM/ha (8-10cms) with high leaf content.
  • Graze to a post-grazing sward height of 4-5cm.
  • Surplus grass exists when pre-grazing yields exceed 10-12cms, when grass growth exceeds herd demand and rotation length goes beyond 25 days. If there are grass surpluses remove them as round baled silage.
  • Topping can be used from the middle of May onwards to remove excess stemmy grass. Top the sward down to under 4-5cm. Removing surpluses as bales will reduce the need for topping.

Steps to Setting up a Paddock System

To manage grass on your farm correctly, a rotational paddock system is needed. A simple cost effective system should be put in place this year. Putting in a paddock system will allow you grow more grass and help reduce input costs in a year that has seen massive price hikes. The following steps will help you create a successful paddock system:   

1. Develop a Farm Map

A Farm map with the exclusions such as ditches, walls and ungrazable areas should be developed to influence the paddocks shape and size as well as possible roadways. Contact your local Teagasc advisor when creating a farm map.

2. Number each Paddock

Numbering the paddocks will simplify the mapping of the farm and splitting fields as well as for identification. These numbers can also be used to help you measure grass in the future.

3. Paddock size

On beef and sheep farms the aim is to grow grass in three weeks and graze it in three days. Therefore three day paddocks should be set up. The size of the paddocks can be calculated following the example provided in Table 1 below. The example shown is for a group of 10 suckler cows and 10 weanlings grazing on free-draining good productive land.  Target 6-7 paddocks per grazing group. Long narrow paddocks should be avoided to minimise poaching, with a ratio of 2:1 so fields are twice as long as they are wide.

Table 1: Calculating Paddock Size:

Stock numbers(A)Liveweight(B)Days in Paddock(C)Total kg liveweight(A×B×C)
10 cows 650kg 3 19,500kg
10 weanlings 200kg 3 6,000kg
      @ 2% body weight
    Intake per day 510kg
    Target cover per
grazing cover
    510/1200 = 0.425Ha (1.05 acres)

4. Plan out drinking points when dividing fields

The water trough location is important as troughs closer to entrances and along roadways are more likely to get dirty and slow stock movement. The best position for water troughs is in the centre of the paddock as it can be used in two or even four paddocks. To avoid leaks ensure the drinker in positioned on level ground and balanced with some gravel if necessary.

5. Farm roadways

Roadways either permanent or temporary can be very effective in managing grass as they enable more efficient access to paddocks. Roadways allow for easier movement and management of livestock around the farm as well as easier management of grass during difficult grazing conditions. The type of road will ultimately be determined by the farm budgets.

Managing grass quality throughout the year has never being more important.  For more information on managing grass and setting up paddocks contact your local Teagasc Office.