By Andrew McMenamin,
Ruminant Nutrition Adviser, United Feeds
WITH the fine spell of weather, most farmers’ thoughts turn to first cut silage and the workload it brings.
While it is important to ensile top quality winter forage, do not take the eye off the ball when it comes to grass on the grazing platform, as this is your feed source for the rest of the summer. Get it right and you will achieve good milk yields and excellent liveweight gains right into the autumn, but get it wrong and these yields and weight gains will reduce much sooner in the year and require additional concentrates to sustain.
At the time of writing grass growth is variable across the country but is averaging around 60kg-80kg DM/ha/day, which means growth is exceeding demand on most farms, despite the recent drop in temperature and rising soil moisture deficits.
We are now entering a critical time in the grass plants’ life cycle. At this time of year grass will start to seed and become hard and thus less palatable, unless we act now. By undertaking some measures, we can prolong the quality of the sward for the rest of the year by doing a few simple steps.
It’s important to remove any surplus grass on the grazing platform now, either in the form of bales or where possible tie in with first cut silage, but as the famous line goes ‘how can we manage something that we don’t measure?’.
Taking out surplus grass can be a bit of a balancing act; most farmers are afraid of cutting too much and not having enough grass for cattle, take out too little and you jeopardise quality and are playing catch-up the rest of the summer.
For those who do not measure grass growth there are a few simple steps to help give you the confidence in removing surplus grass:
n Walk the farm weekly to assess grass covers;
n Target pre-grazing covers of 3,000kg DM/ha with post grazing covers of 1,500kg DM/ha;
n Stick to an 18-21 day rotation.
Walking the farm regularly is crucial, not only so you identify strong covers but also light covers and under-preforming paddocks, enabling you to take action by spreading extra fertiliser or re-seeding such paddocks when appropriate.
If grass covers are too strong, ie, fourth leaf stage (this is when the first leaf dies and you have dead material) or 3,200kg DM/ha or greater you cannot achieve the desired post-grazing residual of 1,500kg DM/ha. The extra grass left behind will form a stemmy base next rotation, reducing grass quality.
Although this can be managed by topping post-grazing, it obviously reduces grass utilisation in the current rotation as grass is wasted that would have otherwise fed livestock. Topping can also inhibit regrowth on paddocks so make sure and cut immediately following grazing to give regrowth the best chance.
Keep track of when you leave paddocks and when you return to graze them. If this is longer than 21 days then you have surplus grass and can afford to take out a paddock or two of 3,200kg DM/ha or greater for round bales. A cover of this bulk will yield 3 to 3.5 bales per acre.
Typically, these bales will be of equal if not better quality than first cuts. They’re useful to buffer grass during periods of drought, prolonged rain or to delay the need to open the silage clamp at the end of the grazing season.
If paddocks are being cut for bales you must replace the nutrients taken from harvesting so sow fertiliser as soon as possible to ensure these paddocks are back in the rotation within 21 days again.
To discuss grass covers on your farm or feeding during this season give your local United Feeds nutritional adviser a call or 028 90 759000. Alternatively, visit www.ufeeds.com or follow United Feeds Ltd on Facebook for regular video updates.