Preparing for grazing on beef farms

When weather and conditions permit, be prepared for turning out beef cattle.
When weather and conditions permit, be prepared for turning out beef cattle.

It is important to start planning for turnout to grazing even though weather and ground conditions have been difficult.

Fields, fence, gates and drinkers. Check these to see if any repairs are required especially in the fields that will be grazed first. If soil analysis is due, samples should be taken before any slurry or fertilisers are applied.

Grass Covers. Assess grass covers on each field and use this information and ground conditions to identify suitable fields to turn-out to. Ideally turn stock out to grazing swards above 2,000kg DM/ha and graze down to 1,600kg DM/ha. Silage fields should be grazed no later than the first week in April and grazed down no further than 1,800 kg DM/ha.

Prepare cattle for turnout. Reduce or stop meal feeding and ensure that any required treatments such as vaccinations or dehorning are carried out well in advance of turnout. If it’s possible turn cattle out slightly hungry and allow them to spend a few hours in an open yard just prior to turnout. This will reduce poaching and encourage a rapid start to grazing when they are turned out into the field.

Gradual turnout. If possible start with lighter stock at a low stocking rate and gradually increase numbers and weights as weather and soil conditions improve. Starting with a low stocking rate doesn’t mean spreading them over a large area. If possible try to graze off individual fields or paddocks and move on. Grazing silage fields if possible will allow you to follow with slurry and/or fertiliser to increase grass growth as quickly as possible.

Grazing out individual fields cleanly will help to establish a rotation and if forced to rehouse due to poor weather conditions will leave suitable fields to turn out to next time.

Match grass growth. As growth increases, turn additional stock out or close up silage areas. If conditions cause grass to grow faster than the stock can graze then close stock off an area and cut for round bale silage at the time it would have been grazed. Do not close up and leave for first cut as it is likely that this area will be needed for grazing before then.

Grazing swards ungrazed or uncut last year. Many farms will have fields that were not cut or grazed before the winter.

A news article giving more detailed information is available at: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/news/dealing-aftermath-prolonged-wet-weather-grass-swards but the main points for grazing are

q Ideally, move stock daily or use two day paddocks at most to ensure a rapid and thorough sward clean-off.

q For heavy but grazeable covers, start by getting out young stock as soon as conditions permit and graze a relatively small area reasonably tightly to graze the sward quickly and effectively.