Ground conditions are slowly improving around the country and thoughts will be gradually turning towards slipping a few animals out to grass.
While farmers operating on drier land may well have some cattle already grazing, in the west and northern regions, turnout is more realistically towards the end of March or the start of April.
An early turnout takes some level of planning. Turn too many cattle out too soon and you will run out of grass. Outlined are five tips to prepare cattle for turning out to grass towards the end of March.
Deciding which stock will benefit most from early grazing
Have a look through the cattle on-farm and decide which animals will benefit most from early grazing.
If maiden heifers are to be bulled at 15 to 16 months of age, these animals should get priority for turning out this month, as early grazing will boost liveweight gain and increase service weight.
Next, consider cattle such as autumn-born weanlings, or last year’s spring calves that will be sold as yearling stores in April or May.
Slipping these animals out to grass will improve weight gain and make animals more attractive for “grass buyers”.
Freshly calved cows and calves can be slipped out as more grass becomes available and ground conditions can carry heavier animals.
Cutting meal feeding in half
While the text book advice is to cut meal from the diet two weeks before turning out to grass, the weather in March can turn quickly.
This can delay your planned turn out by one, two, or even three weeks. If concentrates have been completely cut from the diet, animal performance will suffer unless cattle are eating silage with a DMD of 70+.
Instead, as a compromise, cut meal feeding by half around 10 to 12 days before you plan turn cattle out and hold at this level until animals hit grass.
Make sure vaccines are up to date
Make sure animals have been given vaccinated for diseases such as blackleg before turn out. Where calves are old enough, respiratory vaccines should also be administered. Breeding cows should be up-to-date with vaccines for diseases such as BVD, where appropriate.
Management at turn out time
When the day does arrive to slip some cattle out to grass, restrict silage the evening before. This will put cattle into a fasted state and hungry cattle will be quicker to settle at grass.
As far as possible, turn cattle out during the late morning or early afternoon. This allows animals to settle before temperatures drop in the evening.
If cattle from different pens are going out to the same paddocks, stand these animals in handling pens for a couple of hours before they go to grass.
This will allow animals to mix and establish some form of hierarchy. Cattle will be less likely to bully and dominate in the field, thereby reducing sward damage.
Start with small groups
Always start with small groups when turning cattle out to grass. It is easier to start small and build numbers as grass growth increases.
Turning too many cattle out too soon increases the chance of running out of grass and having to rehouse animals.