Spring Grass Growth Reaches Record Highs

NORTHERN IRELAND, UK - Much has been written about local weather conditions over the past five months, with temperatures and rainfall well in excess of the long term averages. As a result, grass swards across Northern Ireland are green and actively growing, although ground conditions are still challenging on many farms.
calendar icon 5 April 2012
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With many animals housed early in the autumn due to the wet conditions at that time, most farms have heavier grass covers at this stage of the season than would be normal. Thus grassland management decisions made during the next four or five weeks will be key to achieving high grass utilisation in 2012. The AgriSearch and DARD funded GrassCheck project, which monitors grass growth across Northern Ireland, has now returned to help farmers make the correct management decisions.

GrassCheck returns

GrassCheck will continue to report grass growth and quality from six locations: Aghadowey, Antrim, Hillsborough, Portaferry, Fintona and Tempo. As in previous years, the weekly bulletin produced will highlight average and individual growth rates at the six sites.

GrassCheck will also continue to include grass growth predictions for one and two weeks ahead, together with a comparison of current grass growth alongside the long-term average. All six sites were cut during the week beginning 13th February and 28 kg N per ha was applied as urea (½ bag urea per acre). A further 28 kg N per ha was applied as urea in early March, and weekly cutting has now started. In addition, the weekly bulletin will once again feature a ‘Grazing Management Focus’ which will examine grassland management practices on a number of dairy farms across Northern Ireland.

Winter and spring growth

The mild weather throughout the winter months has allowed grass to continue to grow. For example, grass growth recorded at Tempo, Hillsborough and Portaferry from October to mid Feb was in excess of 5.9 kg DM per ha per day. Growth since mid-February has also been exceptional, with growth rates in excess of 12.0 kg DM per ha per day recorded at Greenmount, Tempo, Hillsborough and Portaferry, the highest growth rates observed at Greenmount (20.0 kg DM per ha per day).

In contrast, last spring an average growth rate of 12.3 kg DM per ha per day was not reached until the end of March. In fact, growth rates recorded in late February/early March this year are higher than during any of the previous 13 years during which GrassCheck has been ongoing, with the long term average growth rate for this stage of the season being 4.0 kg DM per ha per day.

With temperatures predicted to remain at or above average in the short term, 2012 is on course to be an early spring, from a growth point of view at least. In addition to grass supplies being good, grass quality is also excellent this spring. Samples analysed recently at Hillsborough indicate a grass dry matter content in excess of 20 per cent, a crude protein at 24 per cent and metabolisable energy content at 12.1 MJ per kg DM.

There is therefore an excellent opportunity for an early turnout this year, and indeed due to the excellent growing conditions, management of grass supplies in the next six weeks will be challenging, especially as ground conditions remain the main issue for many parts of Northern Ireland. Most farms should be targeting a mid to late April date to complete their first grazing cycle. With current grass growth rates, delaying turnout will allow swards to accumulate too much cover, which will be of lower quality, more difficult to graze cleanly and be slower to recover post-grazing. Where necessary use extended grazing techniques to get cows out as soon as possible, if even for a few hours daily.

TheCattleSite News Desk

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