Archive: Setting up for success - 2015 grazing season has started

Published 24 October 14

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2015 Grazing season has started – setting up for success.

Planning for, and setting up the grazing for the 2015 season should be well underway by now, says Piers Badnell, DairyCo technical extension officer.

In a spring-calving grass-based system, the last round starts at the beginning of October and ends at the end of November. This prolongs the grazing season but, as importantly, if not more, it sets up the next season by clearingout pastures to leave good residuals. It also sets the order of grazing in the spring. For example, those fields grazed in early October will be the first to be grazed in February 2015.

In photo 1, of a grass paddock in late November, that was grazed in early October and will be grazed again in February, you can see the quality of the sward. It has a clean base and is predominantly leaf, meaning it will be 12+ ME grazing for February.

 Good residuales

Photograph 1: Paddock in late November, set up for February grazing

The autumn round should be devised by the use of an autumn planner, which allocates a reduced area as you progress through the last round. In Ireland, it is common to graze 60% of the grazing-block in October and 40% in November. For example, on a 50ha grazing block, you would graze 30ha in October (1 h/day) and 20ha in November (0.66 ha/day).

Use a spring rotation planner to increase the area allocated through February, into March and up to the balance day in early April. The Irish system allocates 40% of the grazing area in February and 60% in March.

The principles for managing high-yielding herds at grazing are, fundamentally, the same. First, pick the right cows to graze – those giving less than 30 litres and that are in calf. These cows, following the above principles, will do a good job once challenged, and when they have learnt what is expected.

In an all-year-round system, or autumn-block calving-system, the number of cows ready for grazing in the spring will be, potentially, higher in early February than in a spring-block calving herd. While a spring-block calving herd gradually builds up grazing numbers, and thus demand, in the spring, as cows calve (often over a 6-12-week period), an all-year-round or autumn-block calving herd may have 100 cows ready to graze on 1 February.

In this case, cows may go out slightly later, when the grass has moved on a bit, but it is still essential they have got round the whole block by balance day.

To make sure grass quality is spot on and growth can be maximised, it is imperative to hit good residuals in the autumn and to plan for the closing up of swards. Aim to hit an average farm cover of 2,000kg DM/ha by 1December.

The picture below shows a good residual hit in November, which means any growth will be primarily leaf rather than stalk, come grazing in March. This results in good quality grass, which enables good residuals to be hit, come the first round – the key to a good 2015 grazing season.

 Good cover going into winter

Photograph 2: A good residual for November

Have a look at your swards, in places growth rates are still 40kg DM/ha/day. The long-range forecast predicts warm and wet conditions, meaning an average growth rate of 20kg DM/ha/day between now and the end of November is possible. This equals about 900kg DM/ha - is that going to be too much growth for you to successfully take over the winter?

If so, can you use milkers, dry cows or youngstock to clear up and hit the right covers? The right decisions now will aid both your management and results in the 2015 season.