As January draws to a close it’s hard to believe the grazing season is not too far away. Having the right grazing infrastructure to manage the wet conditions of spring has a huge impact on your ability to use the grass grown.
It’s frustrating to see the energy dense, protein-rich grass growing in the paddock but not be able to access it due to the fear of poaching and what that might do to subsequent grass yields. But flexibility in the way you graze and the right infrastructure means you can take advantage of it, even for just a short period each day. Each extra day at grass in the spring represents a saving of €2.70 per cow (Teagasc).
When allocating grazing area work on intakes of around 6 kgDM/cow/milking as realistic in spring conditions and aim to supplement with 4 to 6 kgDM from concentrate to drive performance. Freshly calved cows will probably eat less than cows later in their lactation. Cows should be on a rising plane of nutrition from calving to breeding, so feed allowances should increase by 0.75 kgDM/cow/week.
Use your Spring Rotation Planner (SRP) to plan how you balance your herd’s requirements with grass availability and to manage the period between turnout and ‘magic day’, when grass supply meets herd demand. It’s a straightforward visual way of planning your grazing in what can be quite a tricky time as you try to balance this ever-increasing resource with herd demand and ground conditions.
Don’t be tempted to skip ahead if grass availability falls off. Your SRP can help you decide when you might need to put in some targeted supplementation to ensure you don’t run out of grass before magic day and compromise subsequent regrowths.
Graze your lighter paddocks first, until cows are accustomed to grazing, before moving to heavier paddocks as they have become more efficient grazers.
Allowing cows short periods in the paddock, before bringing them back inside has benefits in terms of reduced need for bought-in feed, while minimising poaching. Turn cows out to graze for three to four hour blocks after milking, when their appetite is at its keenest, giving them their 6 kg DM allowance. As soon as you see cows beginning to lie down or group together, it is time to bring them back in.
When conditions allow longer periods of grazing, look to move cows to fresh grass every 12 hours. This will help increase utilisation as cows won’t be walking grass into the ground.
Backfencing is a great way of stopping cows going back to nip off the new regrowth in previously grazed areas, but in spring it comes into its own by also protecting soil structure. If you’re grazing larger fields and not backfencing, start at back of the field and work forwards in order to reduce the number of times cows travel over a given area.
Good farm roadways, multiple access points to paddocks and adequate water provision all make a huge difference to grazing effectively during the spring, as well as helping to safeguard the cows’ foot and udder health.
Hopefully your roadway plan has been developed to give cows access to grass while causing the least amount of damage to the paddock and to provide a safe, comfortable walking surface. In spring, think about using spur roads, which are useful for reaching paddocks not easily accessed off the main farm roadways.
When it comes to paddock access try to avoid overuse and bunching of cows at the point of access, which can cause muddy conditions. Not only does this cause poaching and waste grass, but also means cows enter the parlour dirty.
Plan paddock size and layout carefully, with at least two access points (an entrance and exit). Depending on the speed of your rotation it might be possible to change these points every 12 hours. Making gates as wide as possible helps avoid bunching. In many cases cows moving from the paddock onto the roadway have to perform a 90-degree turn. This isn’t easy for a cow and made harder when in a crowd. The more room you give cows to do this the better to reduce bottlenecks.
Making sure you have enough water provision in each paddock eliminates the need to allow cows access to already grazed areas, reducing poaching.