The grazing season kicked off properly here on 16 April this year, earlier than in recent years. There were a few reasons for this. Firstly, we had a decent spring weather-wise, with favourable conditions throughout late March and into April. That allowed us to get fertiliser and slurry out earlier in spring. We targeted slurry on grazing ground and spread 2,000gal/ac on 19-20 March. This was followed up on 10 April with 27-6-6 at a rate of 125kg/ha, on ground that had slurry and 250kg/ha on paddocks that had no slurry.
On 16 April we let out 25 cows and calves to the paddocks across from the yard. These currently consist of 11ha split into three divisions. There is scope here to sub-divide each of these again in the coming weeks as grass growth increases to give us greater control of the sward quality in front of stock. We have since added another four cows and calves to this group and have another grazing group of 36 cows and their calves out since 24 April.
It really has been great to get them out early as at one stage it looked like we would have to buy-in silage to see us through. Instead, we have ended up with some silage left in the pit for next winter.
We are measuring grass growth weekly with a plate meter to keep an eye on both supply and demand of grass. This allows us to make proactive rather than reactive decisions in terms of fertiliser applications and knowing when we have enough of a surplus of grass to remove a paddock for silage.
Last week growth rates averaged 47kgDM/ha/day, while our demand sits at 43kgDM/ha/day. This means we are growing just over the amount of grass that we are eating each day at the moment. With an increase in temperatures this week and some light rain to keep soil moisture right, we expect to see growth improve further.
If this does happen we will look to split the paddocks where necessary and if we have a surplus of grass it will be removed as baled silage.
We have had a good calving this year with the spring herd. Of the 93 cows that went to the bull last year, 91 were in calf. From this we have now calved 86 and have 88 calves on the ground. We have lost a small number of calves, but a few sets of twins has made up the difference. Over 90% of these calved in a nine-week period, with just six left to calve at the start of May.
1 May marks the start of the summer herd calving. These cows are out-wintered on a sandy hill and fed silage throughout the winter. Of the 58 that went to the bull just one scanned empty. Calving is progressing well with these, we just draft them down from where they are out-wintered a couple of times a week as they look to be coming close to calving. They stay outdoors in the fields beside the yard. That way if there are any problems they are easy to run into the sheds. Mostly though they are working away on their own, which is how it should be.
We have a batch of 14 heifers to go to the bull this year. These are mainly Angus heifers and the plan is to put them to the Shorthorn bull we purchased last autumn. All the heifers come into the spring herd here. As mentioned earlier there were six cows from the spring herd still to calve at the start of May. These will now go into the summer herd. This way we can keep the summer herd numbers up when we remove culls. It also saves calving heifers twice a year.
We bought in a small number of in-calf heifers last year also and they have worked out well. I am quite picky when it comes to the type of cow I want coming into the herd – they need to be quiet, sound on their feet, have plenty of milk and not be too big. We may look to add a few numbers this way again later in the year.
We used to calve the heifers a fortnight earlier than the rest of the herd, but we have moved away from this as it just extended the length of the calving season for us. We may look to use a synchronisation programme on them so that they are still calving early in the season to give them as much time as possible to go back in calf again the following year.
Most of the store cattle have been sold this spring. Prices were really good so anything that was up to weight was sold. There is a batch of over 20 still here and they will be grazed for the year and sold off-grass at the end of the summer.
This spring has been the first in a few years that we have been able to get some much-needed field work done. We have sorted drains that had stopped working and added new drains where needed in a couple of fields also. One field we drained, which is about 20 acres, was going to need reseeding so we decided to sow spring barley in it this year. This will give us extra feed barley and hopefully reduce the amount of straw we need to buy. It will also break up the ground nicely and we will get it back to grass again next year.
This extra barley ground has only been possible by intensifying the grazing through the use of paddocks.