Grass advice: Don’t delay in taking out surplus paddocks for bales

Grass growth has taken off once again over the past week or so in parts of the country, with the help of some well-needed rain.

However, grass growth rates are still varying in some areas, with some parts of the country getting little to no rain in the past week or so.

Depending on where you are based, some farmers have seen supplies steam ahead of demand, whereas, in some cases, the exact opposite is being seen.

May is usually the month where grass growth takes off and when the silage season kicks off.

So, it’s important from a grazing and silage point of view that grass supplies are managed properly in order to maximise the quality of grass that is being grazed now and what will be stored for the winter period.

Dairy

At this stage of the year, talking to a couple of dairy farmers, many of them are finding that grass growth has exceeded demand, which has presented an opportunity for them to take out bales for silage.

The only way of identifying what paddocks should be grazed next and what ones should be skipped and baled is by walking the farm and measuring the covers of grass on it.

The sooner paddocks are identified and taken out for bales the better, as this will allow for good-quality silage to be stored for the winter period and allow for paddocks to be brought back into the grazing rotation quicker.

Where paddocks are taken out and cut for silage, it is important that what comes off must go back on – in particular potassium (K) and phosphorus (P).

A cheap way of replacing these off-takes is by applying slurry; however, with the dry weather that some parts of the country have endured over the last few weeks, it might be best to hold out applying any until rain is forecasted to fall.

In terms of a grazing situation, it is imperative that farmers keep good-quality grass in front of their cows.

A couple of points to keep in mind as we head into peak grass growth are to: 

  • Maintain a target post-grazing residual of 4cm;
  • Maintain a target pre-grazing yield of 1,400kg DM/ha;
  • Maintain a rotation length of 18-21 days;
  • Cut surplus bales from the poorer-quality paddocks;
  • Walk the farm twice weekly or more to monitor grass supply and grass-growth rates.

Sheep

No different from what is done on dairy farms, sheep farmers, who have seen supplies exceed demand on their farms, should identify paddocks that have gone ‘too strong for grazing’ and make bales instead.

Ideally, you want ewes and their lambs grazing covers of between 1,050kg DM/ha and 1,200kg DM/ha, which equates to about a pre-grazing cover of between 7cm and 9cm.

If sheep are grazing covers above this then grass utilisation won’t be maximised.

For farms where grass supplies haven’t exceeded demand, then the best option, if you haven’t done so already, is to batch up ewes and their lambs into large groups.

This will reduce the residency period in a paddock and allow for a longer rest period, which should help regrowth.

So to ensure sheep have access to good-quality grass, the following points should be considered.

These include: 

  • Maintain a target post-grazing residual of 4cm;
  • Maintain a target pre-grazing yield of between 1,000kg DM/ha and 1,200kg DM/ha;
  • Batch ewes and their lambs into large groups to reduce the residency period in a paddock;
  • A reduced residency period will allow for an increased rest period which will help with regrowths;
  • Take out paddocks where grass has gone ‘too strong’ (covers in excess of 1,400kg DM/ha) and bale for silage;
  • Continue to walk the farm at least once a week to keep on top of and monitor grass supplies.