Grass growth rates and grass supplies continue to vary massively across the country.

This is presenting a hugely variable picture across farms, depending on stocking rates, grass growth, lambing dates, etc.

One area where there is a challenge raising its head is in having a supply of top-quality grass available post-weaning.

This is quickly coming down the tracks for flocks lambing in early March and a failure to have good-quality grass on offer could impact significantly on performance.


In a normal year, many of these flocks would have a source of top-quality grass coming on stream from two sources – aftergrass coming on stream after first-cut silage and aftergrass coming back into the rotation from surplus paddocks developing on the back of typical peak grass growth rates in late April and May.

Silage aftergrass

There are two challenges ahead of farmers in terms of first-cut silage – weather playing ball to allow silage to be cut in a timely manner and poor growth rates leading to lighter crops.

There is little that can be done on weather, but the second aspect is one which can be influenced.

There is little point in delaying cutting dates significantly where crops are light, as it will likely only result in grass heading out and lower-quality silage being saved.

Analysing grass samples in advance of cutting will provide valuable information

The preferable option is to get fields cleaned off and then being in a focus to enhance subsequent growth and compensate by taking surpluses out of the rotation.

One caveat to this is where growth has been particularly poor and high levels of fertiliser has been applied, with a risk of high nitrate levels.

Analysing grass samples in advance of cutting will provide valuable information.

Targeting paddocks

Where aftergrass from silage areas will not be available, it is still possible to have top-quality grass available with prior planning.

Swards have been grazed out well in general this spring and, as such, there should not be a big risk of swards having developed a butt of poorer-quality grass material at the base of the sward.

It is advisable to review current grass supplies and put a plan in place early to take any corrective action.

Grass supplies can change majorly in the coming weeks, but a plan B should still be in place.

Early planning, whatever the scenario may be, is the secret

Maintaining a regular application of fertiliser will also help and will be important in replenishing any deficit in supplies through taking surplus grass out of the rotation.

Where there is serious pressure on grass supplies and in particular on mixed farms where a high quantity of silage will be required, then early weaning is an option that can be looked at.

Early planning, whatever the scenario may be, is the secret, as it will be hard to adjust in a short time frame.

Weaning procedure

The two types of weaning practised on farms are gradual and abrupt weaning. Farmers find merits in both systems.

Gradual weaning, where a number of ewes are removed from the flock in stages, tends to reduce stress, with fewer lambs unsettled and those that are stressed generally settle quicker.

The downside here is where ewes and lambs are grazing poor-quality swards, with performance in weaned lambs hit harder.

There is also a labour component in flocking animals, but many combine this with weighing and drafting lambs, which balances this.

Abrupt weaning, whereby all lambs are separated from ewes in one go, can lead to higher stress levels at first, but lambs generally settle quickly.

Disruption is minimised where lambs have access to high-quality leafy swards, which also limits any setback in performance.

It is important to note that, in the latter option, good fencing is needed, with lambs taking longer to settle.

Weaning is also the ideal time to identify aspects such as ewes with pendulous udders or lumps in their udder.

Once weaned, the mistake is frequently made of failing to take remedial action quickly enough.