Use the right tools for spring grazing management

Thursday 07.02.2019 , News

Each additional day at grass in the spring has been shown to be worth €2.70 per cow per day. The most efficient way to allocate spring grass is using the Spring Rotation Planner.

The Spring Rotation Planner is a tool that divides the area of your farm into weekly portions and takes the guesswork out of planning the first grazing rotation. It will help ensure grass is provided and rationed across the spring to get to “Magic day” – the day, usually in early to mid–April, when grass growth meets farm demand.

Grazing a percentage of the farm each day also ensures you are setting up a “wedge” in grass growth on the farm so you will have sufficient grass to get through the 2nd rotation. However, much of this rests on if the farm was correctly closed off during the autumn period.

Using the information points below the spring rotation planner enables you maintain grass in the diet throughout the first rotation.

  • Grazing start date
  • Target end of rotation
  • Area to be grazed

A certain percentage of the farm will be grazed each day. Key targets are ensuring 30% of the farm is grazed by the end of February and 60% by 17th March.

Targets for dry and heavy farms

Dry farms
– Turnout mid–February

  • 30% of farm grazed by 1st March
  • 65% of farm grazed 17th March
  • 100% of farm grazed by 10th April

Wet/ Heavy farms
– Turnout early March

  • 30% of farm grazed by mid–March
  • 65% of farm grazed by 31st March
  • 100% of farm grazed by 15th April

Example 1. Heavy farm (Total farm area 30 ha)

The spring rotation planner allocates a certain percentage of the farm to be grazed each day and therefore it is important to stick to the target area – do not graze more or less. Using a strip wire to allocate grass on a 12hour basis will optimise utilisation of the sward and minimise wastage of your grass.

The target post-grazing residual for the first rotation is approximately 3.5 cm. If the herd is hitting this target they need to be supplemented with silage or concentrates to ensure they are adequately fed. If they are not hitting that target, then consider reducing silage or concentrate feeding. In spring calving cows it is recommended to feed 3–4 kg concentrate per cow per day to meet her energy requirements.

Many farms have a lot of grass this spring, which will make it difficult to reach the key targets, grazing low covers will help to increase the area grazed if you start to fall behind your targets. Also, lower covers are easier to graze in wet weather. Remove silage from the diet if you need to increase grass intake to hit your targets.

Managing spring grazing in wet conditions

In periods of wet weather use on/off grazing to maintain grass in the diet. The best way to manage this is to allocate the required area and in 3 hours from when the animals are turned out they should have achieved their required intake and finished grazing. Once they finish grazing, bring them back indoors and this will reduce damage to the field.

To maximise grass utilisation in the spring, good farm infrastructure is a huge advantage as roadways with plenty of entry points into each field provide good access to each part of the grazing platform.

The right grass mixture

At the time of reseeding, it is vitally important to choose the right varieties for your farm. The key traits will depend on each individual farm’s requirements, but most farmers tend to look for varieties to increase production during the shoulders of the year. If extra yield can be got in the spring and autumn it can offset huge requirements for silage and concentrates, having a knock-on effect in terms of reducing costs and improving farm profitability.

The Department of Agriculture recommended list and Teagasc Pasture Profit Index (PPI) will be published in the coming weeks and should be referenced when considering any reseeding plans.