The 2019 grazing season is now well under way in many parts of the country. Grazed grass still represents the cheapest feed source on farm and with the correct management can drastically improve milk produced from forage and overall feed efficiency and profitability. With grass growth rates running above the seasonal average and improving ground conditions, many herd owners should now be transitioning cows to the grazing system.
Cows should be transitioned to the fresh grass diet gradually over a period of time. Start off by grazing for 2 to 3 hours per day to minimise any digestive upsets and allow the rumen to adapt to the change in feed.
When cows go to grass, it is vital to know the quantity of grass dry matter they are consuming on a daily basis to ensure concentrate feeding is allocated correctly. An assessment of grass covers pre and post grazing along with accurately knowing the area of the grazing paddock is necessary to calculate dry matter intakes. Maintenance + (M+) figures and feed to yield can then be adjusted accordingly. This will ensure efficient use of concentrates to meet the cow’s energy requirements, minimising condition loss and avoiding overfeeding.
Grass covers can be assessed in many ways. The most common method of assessment is by using a rising plate meter. The use of quadrants to cut and weigh grass is more accurate but also more time consuming. More experienced grass managers can also make adequate visual assessments of their covers. Whichever method you choose to use, it is important to assess paddock covers at least once a week throughout the grazing season. This allows for better grass budgeting, forward planning and decision making when is comes to managing grass covers which are getting too high or too low.
Cows should be turned out on to grass covers no higher than 3200kg DM/Ha. Higher grass covers can lead to lower grass quality and compromised dry matter intakes which in turn lower the cow’s energy intake from grass. It is also much more difficult to graze off high covers “cleanly” to a residual post grazing cover of 1500kg DM/Ha. If a high residual cover is left over, grass utilisation is compromised, grass regrowth is slower and grass quality is lower due to a higher stem to leaf ratio. Cows should be turned out to grass with a slight edge to their appetite to encourage more aggressive grazing.
For more information on grazing management, grass budgeting, grass cover assessment and feeding management at grass, please contact your local United Feeds adviser.