7 November 1997

Paddock grazing makes most of grass potential

Beef producers should take

note of how some dairy

producers are now

managing grass in an

attempt to improve

use, says a leading

Irish beef researcher.

Sue Rider reports

EFFICIENT beef production from grass depends on operating a flexible management system that matches feed supply to herd demand.

This would maximise liveweight gain from grazed grass – five to six times cheaper than concentrate or silage, Eddie ORiordan, head of Irelands Grange Research Institute, told a cattle production conference at Kildalton Agricultural College, Co Kilkenny.

"Successful beef production from grazed grass depends on a planned management system which allows flexibility as grass conditions change."

Dr ORiordan said the main emphasis must be on knowing grass supply, and animal feed requirements and then matching supply and demand.

"It must be a hands-on approach. Measuring grass availability is accepted practice on dairy farms – but drystock farmers havent bothered. We must change that and do it rapidly."

Dr ORiordan said all grass farmers should have the skills to quantify pasture sward height and pasture cover. An assessment of pasture cover could be obtained by frequently – once a week – walking the entire grazing area to measure how much grass was there. "Eye assessment can also be used to estimate pasture availability.

"All of us should be able to walk into a field of grass and say there is, for instance, 2000kg DM/ha here. Knowing stock feed requirements and what is available will tell you how many days of grazing are available in that paddock."

Once the technique of pasture cover measurement was mastered, it was surprising how quickly small changes in pasture supply would be detected, he said. Recognising grass supply in this way would be critical when managing the grazing season.

"It gives a fantastic ability to manage grass," said Dr ORiordan.

Matching supply and demand was best achieved by rotational paddock grazing.

"Rotational grazing offers flexibility – it allows farmers to see up-coming shortages as well as short-term surpluses which can be re-introduced at times of deficit."

As most farms are made up of a number of fields – which vary in size – introduction of a rotational grazing system was not necessarily too difficult, said Dr ORiordan. "Sub-divisions do not need to be of equal sizes but the greater the number of paddocks, the greater the flexibility."

He suggested a target of 10-12 paddocks in spring/early summer would be sufficient.

It will help to maximise intake of grazed grass and secure maximum liveweight gains over as long a grazing season as possible.

Paddock grazing gives a fantastic ability to manage grass – and the more paddocks available the greater the flexibility, says Eddie ORiordan.