2013-05-13 xml
Coping with the Lack of Spring Grass

As the grass slowly gets greener and begins to grow farmers across the country are sighing with relief as they let their cattle out of the sheds they have been living in for far too long.

However experts from Scotland’s Rural College are warning that grass isn’t ready to give the cattle all they need for a long season ahead and farmers must consider their feeding programmes.

Spring Grass

photo © farm-images.co.uk

According to Specialist Beef Consultant Gavin Hill:
“The late season has put pressure on all parts of the system. On many farms with mixed stock feed supplies have become tighter every day with farmers desperate to get the animals out to grass. But they must remember spring calving cows for example need high levels of feeding just now. This year, just stopping the present indoor ration as they put them out onto new grass may be too much of a shock for the cows.”

Cows with a newly born calf to feed need a nutritious ration that helps their milk production as well as helping them regain body condition in order to be ready to be mated again, later in the year. The advice from the SAC Consulting arm of Scotland’s Rural College is to keep breeding stock on a rising plane of nutrition, with concentrate feeding to maintain the energy levels needed. If grass growth continues to be slow it may even mean farmers grazing smaller groups of cattle on fields normally reserved for silage making.

“It is the younger cows, the first and second calvers, that need particular attention,” says Gavin Hill. “On top of everything else they are still growing. Also lots of cows are so lean this spring they will need more than two months on just grass to regain condition, before they will be ready for the bull. I suggest treating them separately. A high Magnesium mineral supplement is also vital to reduce the risk of grass staggers.”

With parasites like liver Fluke being widely reported farmers should take advice from vets and continue to monitor the situation. It would also be worthwhile checking cows for any fertility problems or the after-effects of the difficult calving’s many more cows have experienced this season. It may be unwise to breed from or keep those with problems and instead maximise the output from younger stock, like bulling heifers.

“But you will need grass for them,” says Gavin. “This year there are so many difficult decisions to make, all with knock on effects. For example delaying mating for a few weeks this year may allow the cows to get fitter, but then next years calving will be delayed with younger, lighter calves going forward to the sales. It’s all about judgement and planning”

Meanwhile for this years crop of calves the advice from Scotland’s Rural Colleges expert is to offer feeding only they, and not adults, can reach.

“Creep feeding reduces the amount of grass the young stock need, leaving more for the cows. It will also boost the calf weights and wean them from their mothers’ earlier, again improving cow condition.”

Finally, with all the attention to cows Gavin urges farmers not to forget the bulls. They should also be examined, checked and treated for any lameness at least two months before the breeding period. It would also be a good time to check fertility.

The key thing believes Gavin Hill is to talk to advisers and vets. Planning is important and it is good to discuss and talk over your thoughts with others. Many are in the same situation. A problem shared is a problem halved.


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