How to – Plan for next spring

Planning for 2019 grazing season has been the focus on farms during autumn management to ensure grazing is set-up for a successful start. As we have experienced this year, it is worth preparing for every scenario that next spring might bring.

With winter-feed stocks under pressure, many are hoping for a kind spring providing perfect situations for an early turnout. However, it is crucial to have Plan B in case we see another long and wet spring. Consider the below points to make sure that you are well armed for whatever spring 2019 might bring!

Continue to monitor feedstocks – To calculate the conserved forage requirements and stocks, you can use the AHDB feed and forage calculator to help you identify if a deficit is starting to occur during the winter months. This takes into account your current livestock numbers and feed supply available. It is important that feed stock assessments are as accurate as possible to plan alternative options to fill the feed deficit if we experience a slow start to the spring.

Reduce feed wastage – Reducing feed wastage at feeding out can help reduce the cost of winter feed. Thinking through the day-to-day processes of clamp and feeding management and identifying areas that can be improved can be beneficial to help reduce a deficit occurring later on in the winter. This short video highlights where feed waste can be reduced in the different stages of the feeding process, from silage clamp, concentrate store through to the missing and feeding stage.

Plan ahead for turnout – Strategic application of fertiliser in late February will help stimulate early grass growth. This will be most effective on swards with a high proportion of perennial ryegrass, as this species uses nitrogen (N) more efficiently than other grasses. Choosing the right time for fertiliser application is key, as grass responds best to N when soil temperatures measured at 10 cm is higher than 5.5◦C for at least four consecutive days. Application of 50 kg N/ha to areas that favour early growth will achieve the best results. Before applying fertiliser, observe soil conditions carefully to avoid wheel damage. This may mean waiting for drier conditions to fertilise heavy or wet soils. Applying fertiliser in wet conditions, or to wet soils, will result in wastage and will not benefit early grass growth.

On-off grazing for dairy cows (but applicable to beef cattle) – grazing for four hours and then bringing cows in is an excellent way to minimise soil damage, particularly if you’ve been affected by waterlogged conditions or lack of grass cover. To make the most of this system ensure:

  • Pasture cover must be sufficient to maintain or extend the first (and possibly second) rotation to avoid a feed shortage
  • Pastures being grazed must have good length and density to allow high and rapid intakes
  • Pastures should have a height of approximately 10 – 15 cm (2,200-2,500 kg DM/ha). Alternatively, pastures should be in the two to three green-leaf stage
  • Cows should be healthy, in good condition, have no lameness and low in mastitis incidence

Supplement ewes during early and mid-pregnancy – think about supplementing ewes during periods of low requirements to ensure grass can be stockpiled for when requirements are higher (e.g. post turnout, early lactation). This should reduce the overall cost of supplementation.

More information is available here.

AHDB Beef & Lamb recently produced a podcast with Phil Creighton from Teagasc on planning winter feed options and how to set up grazing rotations for the spring. You can listen to it here.