Managing your farm through dry weather conditions – Considerations for beef and sheep farmers
July 22, 2021
Due to the recent dry spell and soaring temperatures in some areas grass quality and quantity has been affected. Farmers are now having to think about how best to manage their grass supply.
Little can be done to grow more grass without the water so in this period of rain shortage it is important to best utilise what is available. (At time of writing this article however some rain is forecast in the coming days). In drier areas where there is variable / reduced grass growth, there may be a diminishing supply and farmers may be looking at ways to better manage what they have available.
For the beef farmer at this time the main aim is to balance and match grass supply and demand. Firstly they should identify their grass demand, based on the number and types of livestock being grazed. Next, their grass supply needs to be identified and assessed; this can be done by walking the total grazing area at least once per week and measuring grass covers.
By having a clear picture of these two variables, the farmer can assess if the demand and supply match his needs.
A good way of best managing grass supply is to implement a paddock grazing system. Many beef farmers within the BDG programme have been adopting this system over the past few years. The method relies on splitting fields into smaller paddocks and rotating stock between these. Leaving part of the grazing block vacant allows time for recovery and new grass covers to build. If daily grass growth is low, then the length of time between rotations should be increased to replenish supply.
If cover is slow to build and the farmer has surplus fodder this could be used to buffer feed. A straw chopper can be used to dispense feed throughout the bare / eaten paddock This would allow the farmer to hold animals additional days, lengthening the rotation and resulting in other paddocks gaining the prolonged rest period needed.
Rotation can also be lengthened by first grazing the headlands of silage fields already harvested and then bringing this additional ground back into the grazing block.
If grass supply or demand is under pressure the farmer can employ a number of different strategies to ensure efficient utilisation of what is available.
For instance, if there are autumn calvers on the farm still suckling calves, weaning these will reduce grazing demand. If it allows, forward creep graze spring born calves, or if not, introduce meal creep feeding. Consideration could also be given to selling store cattle or unproductive cows identified for culling, putting less demand on the grass available.
During the periods of extreme heat it is also necessary to be mindful of other needs the animals may have. It is important to provide some shade cover for livestock and ensure these animals always have a fresh, clean supply of water.
Furthermore, the suckler cow farmer should be vigilant of cows that are bulling – in the extreme heat consider removing these animals from the main herd during bulling particularly where there are strong male calves that are following after the cow on heat.
In conclusion, for effective grass management, it is important to have a clear picture of your supply and demand, have a good plan in place to ensure it is utilised efficiently and have options to deal with variances such as dry weather.
For further information on grassland management contact your local CAFRE Beef & Sheep Development Adviser or telephone 0300 200 7843 and ask to be directed to a locally based CAFRE Adviser.
On Tuesday 27th July at 8:00pm, CAFRE is hosting a webinar, looking at the options to help you manage your livestock and arable farm through the current period of dry weather and to plan for the longer term impact this will have on winter feeding and fodder supplies. Pre-registration is required – you can register for the event here.