Grass growth remains unseasonably low for early May, putting grazing rotations under extreme pressure.
Until growth rates pick-up, farmers are faced with a difficult challenge to keep grass in front of cattle.
Outlined are five options to help stretch out grass supplies until such time as growth rates exceed livestock demand.
Keep dressing swards with fertiliser
Although temperatures are struggling to hit double digits, don’t hold back on applying fertiliser if swards are due to be dressed.
Once paddocks are grazed, nitrogen should be spread again. Keeping soil nutrients topped up means grass growth will immediately rise as soon as temperatures pick up.
Waiting for warmer weather before applying nitrogen means there is a time lag between fertiliser being spread on swards and nutrient being available to drive growth rates.
Also, avoid spreading slurry on the grazing platform at present, unless using a trailing shoe. While ground conditions are reasonably good and covers are low, spreading slurry with a splash plate will spoil grass and take a field out of the rotation for at least two to three weeks.
Offer concentrates and fodder
Feeding 1kg to 2kg/head of concentrates on a daily basis will reduce grazing demand, helping to stretch grazing rotations. However, this comes at a cost.
With low grass covers and reasonably good ground conditions, offering concentrates on top of the sward is a more practical option that moving troughs from field to field.
Offering hay or silage will also ease grazing demand. While hay can be easily offered at various points in the field, this is not a practical option for silage.
Ring feeders or feed trailers will be required. This can cause ground damage around the feeder, as well as machinery tracking the field when replenishing fodder.
Ideally, ring feeders should be set up on a laneway, hardcore area, or on a sacrifice area to avoid excessive sward damage.
Protecting regrowth with a back fence
Once paddocks have been grazed, it is important to protect regrowth and rest the sward. When cattle are moved to fresh grass, keep them closed off grazed areas.
If cattle cannot be closed off in a different paddock, make use of an electric wire as a back fence to allow one side to rest for a short period.
Strip grazing silage ground
If cattle exhaust existing covers, then consider strip grazing into silage swards. Do not give cattle full access to silage swards.
By strip grazing, once growth does pick up and grazing swards recover, the ungrazed part of the silage sward can remain closed, unspoiled and be harvested as intended.
Reduce grazing pressure
Finally, consider reducing grazing demand by offloading stores in saleable condition. The live trade is holding up relatively well, given the lack of grass growth at present.
The alternative to selling stores is to take a long, hard look at breeding cows. Pull out the cows that have repeatedly reared light calves in the past, older cows that are due to be culled this year, and any animal that you are in two minds about putting back to the bull.
Selling now with a calf at foot will make these animals a more attractive outfit in the live ring and ease grazing demand.
The final option is to rehouse some cattle, or press pause on turning animals out to grass.