Spring grass deficit means extra attention needed

This year’s spring grass deficit means farmers will need to pay even closer attention to grass management, according to Adrian Van Bysterveldt, Teagasc.

Speaking at a recent open day at Ballydague Research Farm, County Cork, Ireland, he said the first grazing rotation should not finish too early, otherwise grass availability would be reduced in the second rotation.

“When spring growth is reduced, it is advisable to extend the finish date of the first grazing rotation to about 10 April. Returning too early in the first week of April may create grass scarcity in the second rotation.”

From 20 March to 10 April about 30% of the farm should be left to graze. And in poor grass growing years the grass rotation may need to be extended from 21 days to 24-25 days.

“The spring rotation should be planned carefully and the target area grazed per day should not be exceeded.” And when grass is insufficient the remainder of the diet will need to be made up with concentrate and silage.

But although low soil temperatures have meant grass growth rates have been 50% below average in the first week of March, farmers should be prepared for high compensatory growth in late April, once temperatures recover, he said.

“The cold springs of 1983 and 1996 showed grass growth increased by 26% and 12%, respectively, in the last three weeks of April, therefore farmers need to be able to react to high grass growth when they appear,” he explained.

“Farms are likely to move from grass deficits to surpluses in a short period.

“As a result, it is essential farm grass supply is continually assessed – using a grass wedge to make informed decisions will be key to successful grazing management in 2010,” he said.

When reaction time to increased grass growth in April is slow, pre grazing herbage will increase and will be difficult to graze out with the herd.

“Farmers must walk the farm weekly and access farm cover – without having an estimate of grass cover, grazing management decisions cannot be made with accuracy and confidence.”

The benefits of Perennial Ryegrass Pastures 
Including a high proportion of Perennial Ryegrasses (PRG) in grass leys will produce swards capable of recovering quickly after poor winter growing conditions, said Adrian Van Bysterveldt, Teagasc.

“Many Irish farms have swards that include species incapable of recovering grass growth until late April/Early May.”

And this lack of growing capacity is largely due to the absence of Perennial Ryegrasses.

As a result, re-seeding is worthwhile because:

  • Re-seeded swards can provide grass in the shoulders of the season

  • PRG swards are 25% more responsive to nitrogen compared to permanent pasture

  • PRG swards have higher sward quality and re-growth ability

  • Can carry extra stocking rates

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