23 August 2002

Beef producers wise to monitor grazing supply

By Marianne Curtis

MANY pastures should see beef herds safely into autumn, with little supplementary feeding required. However, in areas experiencing heavy rain and sward damage earlier in the season, producers will need to watch grass supply carefully.

For finishing cattle, grass remains in plentiful supply, says MLC beef scientist Duncan Pullar. "Although it has been a difficult grazing season, most farms have adequate grass and conserved forage. However, current grass quality will depend on management earlier in the season.

"Where grass has been regularly topped and swards are thick with young shoots grazing alone should satisfy nutritional requirements. But where swards are open and stemmy it may be a good time to begin supplementary feeding."

Areas, particularly in northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where swards have become damaged due to wet weather may also have insufficient grass.

The main problem with stemmy grass is its low energy content, he says. "Although there is no need to supply additional protein, cattle will benefit from an energy supplement such as rolled barley."

But in areas such as Northern Ireland, which have experienced a difficult grazing season, early housing may be the best option for finishing cattle, according too Greenmount Colleges John McIlmoyle. "Finishing cattle need a high plane of nutrition for a satisfactory finish. This is unlikely to be met by grazing alone so cattle will need supplementary feeding. Finishing cattle will perform better indoors."

DARD and Dr Pullar agree that when ground starts to show signs of poaching, cattle should be housed to protect performance of swards next spring.

Providing ground conditions are good, supplementation of suckler cows should be minimal, says Dr Pullar.

"Where grass quality is suffering, offer straw. But many autumn calvers are unlikely to need it because good grass growth through the summer means they will be carrying adequate condition."

Looking forward to winter, with conserved forage likely to be of variable quality, analysis is vital to fine tune rationing, advises Dr Pullar.

"Producers may have cut silage three to four weeks later than usual so quality could be different from what they are used to. Energy and protein contents could be low, particularly where silage is wet." &#42

Check the sward for young shoots and poaching before introducing supplementary feeding.