20 February 1998

Check there is enough grass before turn-out…

By FW livestock reporters

DAIRY farmers considering turning out cows to make the most of the early season should first check there is enough grass.

"There is no point in turning out too early and grazing off all the grass by Mar 20, for example," warns New Zealand consultant Paul Bird. "It is important to ration the grass carefully and make it last until early to mid-April, when grass growth will probably be higher than animal demand." To turn out early and extend the grazing season, he recommends grazing some or all of the silage ground. "Access to more grazing to extend the season is critical," he explains.

But before turn-out the longest grass on the farm should still be at least 2500-3000kg DM/ha or 10cm, and average cover be between 1900 and 2200kg DM/ha.

Mr Bird explains that producers who have turned out cows already have been able to do so because they set aside fields in October and left them to build up grass cover over winter.

These farmers left a cover of 1700-1800kg DM/ha on the farm before closing in the autumn – and didnt allow sheep on to the farm. This has ensured that quality and availability of grass is good, he says. Nitrogen last October also improved grass covers, and another dressing in late Jan/early Feb is working now.

"Winter kill has not happened, and although there is some minor frost damage, it is not that significant," he says.

To use this grass access is critical, stresses Mr Bird, who suggests that when tracks are adequate, grazing for two to three hours in February appears to be best .

Cows out at grass even for this limited time are happier, healthier and proteins are up, says Mr Bird.

When tracks are not in place to allow early use of grass, he suggests using narrow – 1.5m (4.9ft) – sacrifice tracks to walk cows into large fields. Sacrifice areas need reseeding as soon as possible.

As well as the need for flexibility when turning out early, Mr Bird advises ensuring trace elements and minerals are at the correct levels.

EARLY GRASS USE

&#8226 Cows happier, proteins up.

&#8226 Ration grass so it lasts.

&#8226 Flexi-grazing management.

To turn out early graze some or all of the silage ground – provided grass is over 2500kg DM/ha.