Although the vast majority of cattle on Irish farms will be housed for winter, there will be some farmers on drier land that winter cattle outside on forage brassicas.
Kale and forage rape are the most common brassica crops used for out-wintering cattle.
Outlined are five tips to grazing management.
1. Electric fencing
Strip grazing works best with forage crops and, therefore, good-quality electric fencing is required.
Mains electric is recommended to keep cattle from breaking through wires. But if this is not an option, opt for a 12v or 24v battery unit with a solar panel to maintain the charge.
Set up the strip wires to provide the widest possible feed face, allowing all cattle to graze at the same time.
Wires will need moving daily with the fence, ideally moved up flush to the edge of the ungrazed crop, so that cattle graze below the wire.
After moving the fence, check the standing crop is not earthing the wire, as this will reduce the shock delivered by the electric fence.
2. Grazing in frost
Frost can be an issue when grazing forage crops over winter.
On mornings with a heavy frost, do not move the fence until it has thawed. Frost increases nitrate levels in forage crops, which can poison cattle.
Feed extra straw, silage or meal to keep cattle settled until the fence is ready to move.
As forage brassicas are low in fibre, cattle should have ad-lib access to silage, hay or straw every day.
Aim for 50% of the cattle’s dry matter intake to come from the brassica crop. The other 50% should come from silage or straw.
As a rule of thumb, one round bale of silage should feed 25 to 30 cows per day. If bales are being eaten at a faster rate, then increase forage allowance.
4. Parasite control
Outwintered cattle will continue to be exposed to parasites such as fluke, so animals will need a follow-up dose in early spring and possibly again when they resume grazing on fresh grass.
Taking faecal egg counts regularly over winter will determine if a fluke drench is required, as well as highlighting the efficacy of previous treatments.
5. Mineral supplementation
Kale and forage rape are low in minerals, particularly iodine. Therefore, animals will need supplementing with minerals every day.
A mineral bolus is worth considering and is more reliable than lick buckets, as not all cattle will use them.
Feeding powdered minerals daily, just prior to moving the strip wire, can also work well.
Mixing 1kg of barley will bulk out the minerals and, when fed, it will keep animals back from the fence as it is being moved.