Spring Pasture Management

Spring Pasture Management

At all times of the year it is important to measure, record and then use the information. Weekly farm walks using a rising plate meter is well worthwhile and then printing out a copy of the latest  walk to stick on the office wall.  You can all see at a glance where things are going. Better still if this information is kept in the form of a wedge then use it to pull out paddocks for silage for example. At the early spring you will want to keep on top if the grass for two main reasons.

1. To keep the grass as leafy as possible (more quality feed)
2.  To prevent too much  ryegrass seedhead forming. This will allow the rye to remain a lot more leafy going into summer.
If a paddock has a cover higher than 27-2800 think about pulling it out for a quick cut of silage. If you take a light cut, say 3500 kg dm, then the paddock will be back in the grazing round again soon.  It will again be top quality next time round.

At this time of year graze down to 1500 kg dm cover left behind the cows. If you go below that you are underfeeding. Too far above and you will loose control of pasture quality

You will have gathered by now that using pasture is quite a skill. You are always being reminded by the cows of how feeding is going, while at the same time you will be trying to reach out and predict how things will be in a couple of months. The interesting thing is that it changes all the  time, and your management decisions are always being tested.

The more information you can gather, particularly if this is your first year of recording pasture, the easier it gets.

In the period from March through until mid May the management is geared toward feeding the cows to the max and at the same time ensuring high quality pasture is able to grow into the next round. In late May ryegrass in particular, but also other grass species have a real desire to run to seed. To reduce this seeding as much as possible keep the grazing residuals low with the cows, or pull some paddocks out from the rotation for a quick cut of silage. All these practices are aimed at reducing seed head production as once the seedhead runs up, the pasture quality goes down.  Energy levels can drop quite quickly from 13, down to 9 or 10 because  the sugar produced by the plants is being directed into fibre to hold the flower and then seedhead up. Once the seedhead has developed then energy will be directed into the seed itself.

This is a fairly natural response of grasses to the increasing day lengths as they have as an inbred desire to produce seed to survive the summer.  In the parts of the world where ryegrass originated summer  dry periods were normal. It is easier to manage a short rotation rye than a perennial rye.  Pasture management at this time of year is about managing the plant to avoid as much seedhead as possible so that the leafy bits keep growing.

To achieve this grazing pressure needs to be kept on or paddocks need to be pulled out of the rotation for silage. Taking paddocks out for silage will quicken the rotation. Any pasture ahead of the cows at levels above 2800 kg DM/ha should be considered being pulled out for silage. Do avoid the trap of taking out too big an area at once as this will only result in a shortage of regrowth to feed the cows after the silage has been removed. For the same  reason  avoid leaving the silage paddocks too long before cutting a common mistake made in the UK.  This causes two problems.

a. The regrowth problem
b. The quality of the silage pasture will go down as the fibre goes up.

From the end of June when the days are getting shorter the grasses will have less desire to run to seed. At the same time temperatures will be lifting and things will be drying out..If you have been keeping the residuals low and the quality high then by the end of June your pastures should still be in a good growing state.

During the May to June period  you can start allowing the residuals to lift a bit as you will be aiming to lengthen the round in summer.

Keep applying small amounts of  nitrogen according to the grass growth and the silage requirements you have. You should have calculated how much silage you will need for winter. There may be some left over from last year to include and also remember you may be outside well into November or December if the grass keeps growing as it did last year. In the first few seasons of changing you may consider it a good policy to have a bit extra on board

Pasture and herd performance are optimised by having sufficient quality feed on an annual basis to meet cow demand and by allocating this feed applying the following principles and management practises:
Control the area grazed each day (or rotation length) to manipulate pasture eaten to meet average pasture cover targets for the farm
Estimate the area and pre-grazing cover required for the cows based on the target grazing residual and adjust after observing when / if the cows achieve a âconsistent, even, grazing height
Make management decisions to maximise per cow production for the season not at any one grazing.
Treat pasture as a crop, remove pasture grown since last grazing and prevent post-grazing height increasing over the season
Have pasture cover distributed between paddocks in a feed wedge to ensure that high quality pasture is offered on all paddocks
Keep average pasture cover above 1800kg DM/ha1/ in early spring and between 2000-2400kg DM/ha1/ for the season to maximise pasture growth rates