Every opportunity to get grass into the cows’ diet needs to be taken, despite the weather challenges that present at this time of year. Getting the cows out on grass is better for the cows, and is beneficial for the grass plant. Nutritionally, spring grazed grass is far superior to grass silage indoors with digestibility in the mid-eighties in terms of DMD. So the more of it you can get into the diet the better.
There are three daily objectives for cows grazing in wet weather: Feed the cow; Minimise damage; Grazing Residuals (if possible).
The only way for you to know if a paddock is fit for grazing, is to walk your farm. Grazing decisions cannot be made in the farmyard.
To get started:
Walk the farm and assess ground conditions and grass covers in each paddock. (Record on PastureBase).
Identify the driest paddocks with a lower cover (800-1000KgDM/Ha) on your farm. The target is to have these grazed in February.
Get cows out for two to three hours on these paddocks after each milking (strip graze/ back-fence, temporary roadways).
On/off grazing is ideal for getting grass into the cows’ diet.
Cows need a keen appetite for grazing; therefore they cannot be full of silage going out to grass. One way to achieve this is to milk earlier in the evening. Start the evening milking at 3 to 4pm to allow for a second grazing session.
Daily Grass Intake
Cows can achieve 90% of their daily grass intake in two to three hours after each milking compared to cows out full-time.
Graze the dry, best infrastructure paddocks with lighter grass covers. Good grazing infrastructure will help to reduce damage and achieve more grazing.
Aim to have multiple access points in the paddock.
When weather improves, graze the heavier covers. (Target these after the 30% grazing target has been achieved).
Use the back-fence to protect areas grazed in poor conditions.
Meeting Grazing targets
A spring grass budget and spring rotation planner should be completed on PastureBase or other grazing software. The grass budget then will allow you to plan to have enough grass into the second rotation. (Do not to let AFC drop below 500KgDM/ha). The planner is designed to take the guess work out of grazing management and it relies on the principle of grazing a set area each day.
Graze 1% of the farm every day during February
Target paddocks with the lowest covers initially, in order to reach 30% target.
It’s not possible to put cows out on grass, and keep them out, unless there is grass on the farm and there is a grazing plan put in place.
If 30% grazed in February is not achievable, get as close to it as you possibly can, and focus on the next target of 65-70% grazed by March 17.
Rewards are high for grazing in February! Aim to get as close to these targets as possible as every extra day a cow is out on grass, it is worth €2.70/day/cow.
Nitrogen is essential; 1Kg Nitrogen applied = 10Kg Grass DM in spring.
To get the best response to N in spring, the soil temperature needs to be 5°C and rising (at 10cm depth). Pay particular attention to the weather forecast, soil conditions and grass cover in the paddock, prior to applying Nitrogen fertiliser (N).
Fertiliser or slurry must never be spread on water logged, snow covered or frozen soils.
To check soil temperature in your area you can look up https://soiltemp.remotesignals.ie/ or buy a soil thermometer. Do not apply fertiliser if rain is forecast.