Closing up paddocks

Keeping the winter period as short as possible will help to reduce the cost of keeping suckler cows on farms. However, rather than just holding cows out as late as possible, the winter period can also be reduced by getting an early turnout in spring.

A week of grazing in early spring is worth two weeks of grazing in November. Closing up paddocks now in rotation will still allow you to hold stock out for another few weeks. Do not be tempted to go back and re-graze closed paddocks, even if there is a mild period next month.

Silage quality will generally have a higher feed value than grazed grass in November, especially forage that was saved this summer from surplus grass. With silage DM of 25-35% and 68-72 DMD, store cattle will perform better on silage than grazed grass as the dry matter energy intake will be higher.

It is better to start closing paddocks now and start utilising silage once the farm is grazed out, rather than try to hold cattle out as late as possible in winter and delay turnout until mid-April because of a lack of grass. Grass will be central in lowering costs on suckler farms.

First-calver nutrition and health

Pay attention to first-calving heifers and their body condition score over the next few weeks. This is especially important for autumn-calving heifers sucking calves.

Heifers can lose condition quickly and this will result in delayed resumption of cycling and poor conception rates. If grass supply is scarce, heifers that calved in spring for the first time should get priority access to grass to make sure they don’t lose excessive condition prior to housing. If you can separate these heifers out on their own and feed better, it will help them hold condition.

Make sure you are on top of worm and fluke control with this group as well as any stress or burden will result in body condition loss. It’s especially critical where you are calving at two years old. On Tullamore Farm, in-calf heifers that calved for the first time in 2022 have been separated out along with a number of thinner dry cows and these are on good-quality grass. If body condition is being lost, these heifers could be weaned early and allowed to recover before housing.

Heifers calving at two years old will continue to grow through their third and fourth year so it’s important their diet isn’t restricted.

Winter feed questions

In next week’s Irish Farmers Journal we will have a winter feed special. With concentrate prices almost doubling there have been a lot of questions around the merits of feeding meal this winter and what stock should get priority when concentrate feeding. If you have any questions on ration formulation, meal feeding, alternative feeds, silage feeding or winter feed in general send them to or and we will answer them next week.