Having reached mid-February and with grass and ground in excellent condition, farmers right across the country should be looking to get stock to grass at every opportunity.
However, before rushing out too many animals, it is worth taking a few hours to do an opening grass cover measurement – something that John Dunne, along with his son James, recently conducted.
John and James farm just over 110ha, outside Portarlington, in Co Offaly. There is a single home block with two yards situated on it, while another substantial grazing block is leased about 10 miles away. Land type is primarily very good.
John operates a steer- and heifer-beef system. He plans to run over 100 suckler cows and to purchase in a further 100 dairy-bred calves.
Unfortunately, 2018 was a very difficult year on the farm. A bout of pneumonia hit during the spring, with a number of young calves lost. Suckler cow numbers took a hit as cows were culled.
Calving has commenced, wih seven cows calved so far.
This spring, there are 70 females due to calve. Calving commenced 10 days ago and to date seven cows have calved, with one bearing a set of twins.
Seventy cows is well below where John wants to be, but the plan is to up his numbers as soon as possible. Assuming he carries over 60 to 65 of his current herd for next year, he hopes to get a batch of at least 40 heifers together for breeding this spring. Keen to try his hand at AI, this bunch of heifers will be the perfect starting point.
On the topic of dairy calves, John is still undecided as to how many he will purchase. Having got on well with calves in the past and the boost to cash flow they bring, he would like to buy. That said, the price must be right.
Elsewhere on the farm, 108 spring 2018-born steers and heifers were kept outdoors on a forage crop all winter. The crop was sown in mid-September and while the yield wasn’t huge, utilisation was excellent. The steers also received 1.5kg/head of concentrates and had daily access to silage.
All 2018-born stock were out-wintered.
There is less than a week left of this crop. Once gone, bulls and heifers will be spilt and let to grass. Silage ground will be grazed first. When split, heifers will be weighed and evaluated to identify potential breeders.
Dairy-bred heifers will need to be at least 360kg at breeding (1 May) and continental stock will need to be 380kg. To reach these targets, the animals need to be 300kg and 320kg respectively at this week's weighing.
Fertiliser also needs to be spread. This week, the plan is to spread half a bag (23 units) of urea per acre across most of the farm. Slurry has not yet been spread and this will only be done after the silage ground is fully grazed off.
Measuring grass is a critical part of good grassland management.
The steps for measuring grass using a plate meter are as follows:Record the opening reading on the platemeter.Walk the field/paddock (in a w or v shape), taking a designated number of drops. Anywhere between 20 and 50 drops works well. The more drops, the greater the accuracy.Record the closing reading on the platemeter.Subtract the opening reading from the closing reading and divide by twice the number of drops (each step on the platemeter is 0.5cm). For example, if 30 drops were taken, divide the difference by 60.The result will be the cm of grass in the paddock. To convert to kg DM/ha, every cm over 4cm contains 250kg DM/ha.