In recent years, the weather in February and March has had many farmers questioning whether early spring grazing is worth while anymore.

Early spring grazing increases the workload significantly on farms, and can also be quite hard on cows.

Change in climate has not only caused the weather to become warmer, but it has also gotten wetter.

Depending on your location in the country, rainfall for the month of February was 1.5 to twice above the average amount.

It begs the question of, should grazing continue to begin in February, or would starting slightly later in the year be more effective?


Grass is the cheapest feed on farms, and is the key to the success of Irish dairy.

Grazed grass being the main feed in the diet of dairy cows is not common place around the world, apart from in New Zealand and maybe parts of Austria.

The feeding of a total mixed ration (TMR) is the done thing when it comes to dairying across the world.

But, this system is very open to the price inflation of feed, where although concentrates plays a role in the diets of grass-based dairy cows, feeding rates can be quite low.

There is no question that grazing in February is becoming increasingly more challenging, but fortunately, there were still plenty of cows out this year.

It is not possible for every farm to get out – but the aim should always be to get cows out as soon as conditions allow.

The target for many farms would have been to have 30% grazed by the beginning of March, then to have a further 30% grazed by mid-March.

For this to be achieved, a significant improvement in the weather is needed, and the amount of grass in the diet needs to increase.

This means that in the large majority of farms, this is not going to be achieved, and that is ok. They are targets after all, which means that some years they will be achieved, and other years they will not be achieved.

But, getting grass into the diet is reducing the feed cost and is also setting the farm up for the year ahead to ensure that quality grass is available for cows moving forward.

Spring grazing

The first rotation is about setting the farm up for the future; this is done by achieving three aims:

  1. Feed the cow;
  2. Minimise poaching;
  3. Achieve residuals.

You want to reduce the need for silage in the diet and feed the cows from as much grazed grass as possible, but do this without causing significant damage to paddocks – all while achieving good residuals to ensure that grass quality is high in future rotations.

Most herds will be hoping that a good amount of grazing can be done in March, and with more cows not calved, you will get through area quicker.

The aim is usually to have all the farm grazed off by the end of the month, but this is not always possible.

You will have to be strategic about the paddocks or fields you graze – remember, the fields going for silage need to be closed by the end of the month or early April.

Continue to use good grazing management with practices such as on-off grazing, spur roadways and back fencing.

These practices will help to prevent or keep damage to a minimum in paddocks, but will also help to ensure that area is getting grazed.