How To: Autumn planning for sheep farms

Teagasc in Ireland has recently launched a campaign called Grass10, which is running until 2020 with the aim of increasing grass utilisation on Irish livestock farms (dairy, beef and sheep). Their targets are 10 tonnes of dry matter (DM) per hectare (t DM/ha) per year utilised and 10 grazings per paddock per year. See the Teagasc website for more information.

They suggest increasing grass utilised by 1t DM/ha per year would be worth €181/ha to dairy farmers and €105/ha to beef and sheep producers.

It is recommended sheep producers should have a closing plan to ensure they have enough grass next spring for ewes with lambs. Ideally fields should have at least a 120-day rest period over the winter and producers should stop grazing (close) paddocks from now onwards. This is appropriate for early March lambing flocks with some winter housing, away wintering or ability to hold them on a small area with supplementation feeding.

The paddocks closed first should be the ones which were first used in the spring, so think about shelter and access from the lambing shed. The aim is to have sward heights of 6-8cm in the spring to maximise intakes and to ensure rotations can start quickly.

Teagasc advises the following closing plan for sheep producers:

  • 15-20% of paddocks to be closed by the end of October
  • 40% by mid-November
  • 60% by end of November
  • 80% by mid-December

 

Irish work on dairy farms has estimated up to 60% of the grass grazed in the spring will be grown by the beginning of December, so careful grazing and shutting up of fields in the autumn is crucial. Targets for dairy farms are to have 60% and 70% of the grazing platform grazed and shut up by beginning of November. However, dairy farmers may have earlier turnout dates and need higher covers for dairy grazing.

It may be challenging not to graze paddocks when grazing is running tight in December or January. A ewe’s feed requirement mid-pregnancy is approximately half that of a ewe in early lactation. Therefore, it is important to hold the grass for when the ewe has lambs as grass is worth much more in the spring when grazed by a ewe in early lactation rather than mid-pregnancy. Supplements or silage can be used to reduce demand during the winter, as it is much easier to feed a ewe at grass before she has lambs. More information can be found in the Feeding the Ewe manual.

This is a slightly different approach to all-grass wintering (LINK) but has the same outcome, which is grass rested over the winter to grow as much as possible to reduce need for supplementation in the spring. Some producers practising all-grass wintering sometimes struggle with too much grass on the paddocks as they approach lambing meaning a second grazing is required. This is partly due to them lambing outdoors and trying to control intakes to ensure birth weight is optimised.

Grass covers should be assessed in February and if needed, grass growth can be stimulated by an early application of fertiliser, especially when soil temperatures begin to rise in February and March.

Sources of further information for early fertiliser applications

Nutrient Management Guide (RB209)

Nutrient Management Guide provides guidance on nitrogen application and timings.

 

 

 

 

 

A summary of fertiliser response rate based on growth rates from New Zealand would be useful when planning fertiliser applications. See https://www.dairynz.co.nz/media/255711/7-11_Seasonal_nitrogen_use_2012.pdf.

A similar approach can be used for beef cattle – see https://www.teagasc.ie/media/website/crops/grassland/autumn-grazing-planner.pdf for a planner.