Squelch­ing along, wait­ing for the weather to pick up!

Irish Independent - Farming - - FARM OUR FAGAN - MARY KINSTON

DO we need to be pa­tient, or do we need get go­ing?

When it comes to spring graz­ing and get­ting fer­tiliser or slurry out, this ques­tion both­ers me ev­ery year. The only way to an­swer it is to walk the farm and as­sess whether it can han­dle cows and ma­chin­ery.

As soon as ground con­di­tions are good enough, you need to go on all counts.

Un­for­tu­nately, hav­ing walked our farm in Kerry I’m once again re­minded that we’re worlds apart from farms in other parts of the coun­try where they are al­ready up and run­ning on the spring sched­ule.

We have re­ceived over 100ml of rain per month in the last seven months so it’s no sur­prise re­ally that my size 7s make tracks as I squelch along with ev­ery foot­step. I’ve learned that pa­tience is a virtue in this po­si­tion, as there’s a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence be­tween mark­ing/dirty­ing the pas­ture and dam­age.

What­ever your po­si­tion, be­ing ready is vi­tal. Spring graz­ing de­ci­sions are all about manag­ing your grass re­serve in a pe­riod where cow de­mand sig­nif­i­cantly out­weigh grass growth.

The spring ro­ta­tion plan­ner is a sim­ple yet most ef­fec­tive tool and should be re­ferred to ev­ery spring.

Start­ing with a 100-day ro­ta­tion in Fe­bru­ary and re­duc­ing to 20 days by mid-April will see around 25-30pc of the farm grazed by March 1, and 70pc by March 20, with the sec­ond ro­ta­tion start­ing by the first week of April.

By fol­low­ing th­ese area tar­gets for graz­ing — and fill­ing gaps in cow de­mand with sup­ple­ment in the form of meal or silage — nor­mal spring con­di­tions should pro­vide ad­e­quate re­growth to sus­tain the com­mence­ment of the sec­ond ro­ta­tion of graz­ing.

Here are a few point­ers to use the spring ro­ta­tion plan­ner ef­fec­tively when faced with a vari­able spring con­di­tions. Weekly farm walks will be a ne­ces­sity from now on to as­sess changes in av­er­age farm cover and grass growth. ÷ Start graz­ing pad­docks with lighter cov­ers of around 500-900kgDM/ha avail­able. This al­lows you to stock smaller num­bers of calved cows on big­ger ar­eas, min­imis­ing dam­age while achiev­ing your Fe­bru­ary graz­ing tar­gets. It also stimu- lates in­creased rates of grass growths as th­ese pad­docks gen­er­ally get grow­ing quicker than graz­ing heavy cov­ers. ÷ Save your heavy (>1300k gDM/ha) cov­ers for midMarch on­wards. You’ll need th­ese to meet in­creas­ing de­mand for grass as calved num­bers in­crease. ÷If the re­growth on grazed pad­docks is slower than ex­pected, you may need to slow your ro­ta­tion plan down un­til you’ve seen some level of re­cov­ery in re­growth. Spring graz­ing is all about manag­ing the deficit, so a de­gree of cau­tion is needed if con­di­tions are go­ing against you. Go­ing gung-ho in early spring will of­ten see you run short and in­tro­duce silage in early April when cows need grass the most. ÷Grass growth rates are re­liant on main­tain­ing an ad­e­quate level of leaf cover all over the farm, so do not let your area av­er­age cover fall be­low 400kgDM/ha at all costs. If you do, the grass deficit will be big­ger and will be pro­longed.

Fi­nally, If wet weather per­sists and graz­ing is de­layed un­til March 1, I would sug­gest graz­ing 30pc of farm by March 15, 65-70pc by March 31 and start your sec­ond ro­ta­tion at around April 12-20 de­pend­ing pre­vi­ous grass growth.

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