CAFRE Management Tips – Actions to take as weather improves

Date published: 24 April 2024

With temperatures on the rise and a better forecast on the horizon, field operations and grazing have begun in earnest across the country after being significantly delayed with the difficult spring weather conditions encountered this year. Alan Agnew, Senior Dairying Adviser and Rachel Megarrell, Senior Beef and Sheep Adviser, provide some actions to take as the weather improves.

Silage management

Planning for the silage season ahead must now be the key focus, it is therefore important to take stock of the amount of silage required for the winter period.  Completing a fodder budget will allow you to calculate the demand from feeding stock through the winter and determine the quantity of silage required this summer to avoid a fodder deficit on farm prior to next winter. 

A typical example of the average daily animal silage requirement during the housing period on a fresh weight basis is as follows:

  • Dairy cow: 45kg/head/day
  • Suckler cow: 32kg/head/day
  • Ewe: 5kg/head/day

There is always a balance to be struct between bulk and quality but avoid aiming solely for large bulky cuts at the detriment of silage quality as this will have implications for concentrate feed input throughout the housing period and will also slow down sward regrowth. The ability to cut highly digestible silage with high energy and protein content allows farmers to maximise the quality of forage fed to priority groups of stock such as young stock, finishing stock and pregnant ewes, and reduce the need to feed supplementary concentrate feed.  If you require assistance, then contact your local CAFRE adviser for further information. 

Replenishing Forage Stocks

Many farmers this spring have been grateful for silage carried over from previous seasons. However, that buffer of “surplus” silage will need to be replenished this year.  Dairy farmers should take a close look at livestock numbers on the farm and off load unprofitable or surplus stock so that silage area can be maximized. There may also be options to purchase spring sown cereals for whole-crop.  On beef and sheep farms if, as the summer progresses, you predict a silage shortfall for the incoming winter then consider the following options: Scan breeding stock and sell unproductive cows, sell cattle as stores before winter and cull older less productive ewes. 


Grazing areas should be walked each week, this allows you to plan the grazing rotation in advance and help in the decision making. For example, if grazing conditions are still poor you may opt for a period of on/off grazing or grazing a larger area with a smaller number of stock to begin with.

On most dairy farms grass covers are good but this can lead to grazing problems later in the season unless a proper plan is put in place now. High grass covers can lead to a smaller than necessary platform being established on the first rotation which then leads to a grazing shortfall during the second rotation and before silage aftermath is available.  Grass quality and allocation will be much better over the course of the season if an adequate platform is established now. Surplus grass should be identified and removed for silage, during this first rotation, to create a grass wedge. Target covers are 3100 kg DM/ha at grazing with a post-grazing cover of 1600 kg DM/ha. Remember that cows will benefit from a gradual transition to grazing over the course of the first week.

Ewes and lambs that have been particularly affected by the prolonged period of wet weather have now seen some respite and when grass growth and quality is sufficient concentrate supplementation to lactating ewes can be reduced.   Creep feeding of lambs may also be an option to take some of the pressure off certain groups such as first lambing ewes rearing twins.  Ewes and lambs can now begin to be moved into larger mobs for grazing which will allow silage areas to be closed up.

Animal Health

With the changeable spring weather, it is important not to forget about the challenge of hypomagnesemia (grass tetany or staggers) which can occur on rapidly growing lush swards.  Access to magnesium minerals will be essential and supplementation can be via free access minerals, licks or boluses.  If grass tetany is suspected, then contact your vet immediately.

Within the sheep flock two concerns with the wetter and milder weather at present are:  Coccidiosis in lambs >4 weeks of age and Nematodirus in lambs >6 weeks of age and with reference to the latter the SCOPS forecast should be kept under weekly review and action taken as appropriate when risk level dictates. 

Thinking Ahead

The establishment of clover into grazing swards has many benefits including fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere, improved animal performance, increased daily liveweight gains, reduction in worm burdens and increased trace element availability.  Clover swards require a high level of management and soil fertility. However, the benefits are such that farmers can really profit from clover and establishing a small acreage initially is a sound approach.

Notes to editors: 

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