Getting the best feed into the animals’ mouths
It’s the start of a new year for g r a s s , an d i t ne ed s a go od breakfast, of early nitrogen ( N) in the shape of urea or slurry.
When making out a fertiliser/slurry plan, slurry needs to be prioritised for low phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) ground with low covers. As soon as conditions allow, spread 2,500 gallons of slurry o n c o ve r s no t p l a n n e d fo r gr az in g u n t i l Ma rc h , a n d spread half a bag of urea on the remaining ground. Urea is also more stable in soil than CAN in the early spring period.
N ap p l ie d i n th e fo r m of urea has the ability to ‘cling’ to the soil.
Applying early N fertiliser in spring (weather permitting) will not only grow more grass, but helps the recovery of grass after grazing, so there will be more grass available for the next round of grazing also. In March, spread 2,500 gallons of slurry/acre and spread h a l f a b a g o f ure a / a c re on remaining ground. Spread 23-40 units of N/acre on the remainder.
Yo u c a n s w i t c h t o c o mpound in March, where fields are low in P and K, and where y o u ha ve ve r y go od c o n d itions.
Across a number of trials, and from on- farm data, the average response to N in the spring is 10kg of grass dry matter (DM) for every 1kg of N spread.
A single kilogram of grass is worth 16c in the spring, and at cur rent prices, 1kg of N is costing 80c. This is a 2:1 return on money spent. However, for fer tiliser to w o r k , it f i r s t n e e d s t o b e ordered, delivered and spread on the paddocks.
There is zero response to N left in the bag.
Grass for breakfast, dinner, tea and supper
So grass is growing, the next thing is to get the best feed available on your farm into animals’ mouths.
You need the first rotation to last until growth equals demand on your fa rm, and you need to ensure you get all t h e f a rm g r a z e d ( i n c l u d e silage ground, if grazing it) in the first rotation.
T h e b i gg es t ch a l l e n g e is getting it all grazed, as weather and ground conditions can be challenging in the spring.
M a ke ou t a s i mp le p la n , with turnout date and end of first rotation date.
For example, a dry farm in the south with a turnout of February 12 would have 50 days grazing, with the second rotation starting on April 3. On 100 acres, this means grazing two acres a day. This plan can be tweaked as the spring progresses. A spring rotation planner can be generated by PastureBase Ireland.
It is free to access on the https://pasturebase.teagasc.ie website.
Benefits of a grass diet
Every blade of grass into an animal’s mouth in the spring is a saving on costly indoor feed, and will have liveweight benefits.
So, what we are aiming to do i s to m ak e th e m o s t ou t o f challenging conditions. Every day at grass is worth €2/livestock unit (LU).
F o r ex am p l e , if 60 ex tr a days at grass are captured for 50LU, then it is worth € 6,000. However, to capture days at g r a s s in we t we a t h e r , yo u need to have the right land, the right cover, the right paddock, the right animal and the right mind!
Where possible, move stock to drier parts of the farm. Lower covers are easier to graze in the wet and, as they a r e gr ee n t o th e b a s e , a r e faster to recover. Ideally, the paddock should be square in shape.
An ir regular- shaped paddock will lead to “the racecourse ef fect”, where stock will walk up and down the perimeter fence.
If you know that a spell of p r o l o n g e d we t w e a t h e r is coming, hold off on turning o u t mo re s to c k , u n t il th e weather settles.
Cattle that are used to grazing will be more settled. If cattle are very unsettled, do not be afraid to rehouse them. Trial work has shown that cattle who get turned out early and are then rehoused are still heavier than animals that are turned out late.
At the recent Teagasc National Tillage Conference in Kilkenny, from left, John Metcalfe, Tullow, Co Carlow; Mick McBennett, Newcastle, Co Dublin; and Jim O’Regan, Kinsale, Co Cork. Below, Paddy Harrington, Minane Bridge, Co Cork; Seamus Kearney, Department of Agriculture; and Frank Hayes, Dairygold.