Good grassland management in autumn is essential for late-season grazing and setting up the farm for the start of next year.
Management of the grazing platform during autumn significantly impacts spring grass availability, the focus being on building grass up and managing the final rotation to close off at the right point. Germinal Ireland technical director Dr Mary McEvoy shares her six top tips on how to do this well.
Planning ahead and measuring regularly
A well-thought-out plan is specific to your farm and stocking rate and helps you budget autumn grazing. From August to October, it is vital to measure grass supply weekly so you know what grass is available and can plan and achieve your grazing targets.
Start by building grass
From mid-August, the focus is on building grass up with rotation lengths extended to achieve this. Grass growth has been relatively good across the country in late August/early September this year. Ideally, any surplus grass would have been baled by the end of August as later cutting doesn’t allow enough time to build covers before the final grazing rotation.
Farm cover should peak in mid-September
Building covers during August means they should reach their highest in mid-September. By mid-September, average farm cover should be around 1,000 kg DM/ha for farms stocked at 2.5 LU/ha, increasing to 1,100 kg DM/ha for farms stocked at 3.0 LU/ha.
Rotation length will be around 30 to 35 days respectively. Use strip wires to improve grass utilisation if covers increase. Good cleanouts now make it easier to clean fields out well in the next round and reduce the chance of dead grass building up over the winter.
Begin closing in October
Start to close the grazing platform in October, aiming to have 60% closed by the end of the first week in November. The platform should be fully closed by the last week in November, with paddocks cleaned out well during the final rotations. Aim for a closing farm cover of around 550-700 kg DM/ha, depending on the stocking rate.
Focus on residuals in the last rotation
During the last rotation focus on grazing down to your target residual. As a rule, residual targets should be around 4 cm where possible. This helps ensure enough light reaches the base of the sward during winter and minimises tiller death. This is particularly important for swards containing clover.
Although a plan is important for autumn grazing, also try to be flexible and respond to what you are seeing on-farm. Monitor covers closely and don’t be afraid to close the farm early if targets have already been reached.
However, if you are struggling to meet your daily grass allocations, feed supplements to buffer any shortfall, rather than overgrazing and removing grass needed next spring.
Ask a grass and forage expert
Contact one of our grass and forage experts if you want to know more.