Sheep advice: How to manage tight grass supplies this spring

For many sheep farmers in the western part of the country, grass supplies are not where they should be for this time of year.

Over the last while, grass growth rates have started to improve; however, in many cases, growth is yet to exceed demand, so it’s important to manage current grass supplies wisely.

In terms of average grass growth rates, PastureBase Ireland figures are showing 23kg DM/ha in Ulster, 28kg DM/ha in Connacht, 31kg DM/ha in Leinster and 32kg DM/ha in Munster.

Grass growth is predicted to increase further over the coming days, as weather conditions continue to improve, with temperatures set to rise and the fact that farmers have been able to get fertiliser out on their land over the last two weeks.

However, if we break the figures down county-by-county, grass supplies in sheep-predominate areas are still behind on where they should be – heading into mid-April.

For example, figures show that in Donegal and Mayo, that grass growth rates were 18kg DM/ha and 21kg DM/ha over the last week.

Whereas, looking down towards the south-east of the country, figures show that in Wexford, grass growth rates were 36kg DM/ha.

The land-type in the north-west of the country is much heavier compared to the south-east of the country; however, considering the time of the year, grass growth is behind on where it should be.

Many farmers are still supplementing ewes and, by the looks of it, will continue to do so until supply exceeds demand.

It is important that farmers continue to supplement ewes that are rearing three lambs and also ewe hoggets that are carrying multiple lambs regardless.

One option for farmers in order to reduce demand until grass growth improves is to creep feed lambs. This should be considered if ewes are lacking condition – even just for a short period of time.

The following (below) is a list of guidelines Teagasc has drawn up for farmers when grass supplies are tight.

These include: 

  • Group-up ewes and lambs as soon as possible to reduce the number of grazing groups on the farm;
  • Continue to supplement ewes with concentrates where grass supplies are tight or where ewes are grazing low covers (e.g. 4cm or less);
  • Feed concentrates from 0.5kg/head up to 1kg/head per day depending on conditions and what the outlook for growth is in order to reduce demand;
  • Avoid re-grazing fields. Allow at least 35-40 days between your first and second grazing;
  • Graze silage ground (or a part of it) for a second time and delay closing up silage ground – for three weeks – if grass supplies are tight.