Preparations for autumn on beef and sheep farms

Date published: 08 September 2021

After a very changeable grass growing summer, the last few weeks of more favourable weather has been very much welcomed across all farms. Pleasant weather conditions for harvesting and the tidying up of surplus silage has helped us forget the drop in grass growth during the heatwave and subsequent rainfall.

Beef cattle at autumn grass

While conditions are looking good for the next 7-10 days, the autumn is just around the corner and farmers should now start their preparations for the 2022 farming year.  Hannah McNelis, CAFRE Beef and Sheep Adviser explains what to consider as we approach autumn.

Sheep breeding season & rams

The breeding season will be kicking off in the coming weeks across sheep farms aiming for a mid-season lambing system. Hopefully at this stage all new replacement rams required on farm will be purchased and currently in the quarantine period away from all other breeding stock.

Hannah advises that purchasing rams at a later stage does potentially open the farm up to increased risk of introducing lameness, fertility or health issues.

Time should be taken to purchase a ram that can be assured to be fully fit and ready for the breeding season and a quarantine period should be adopted on farm with faecal egg counts (FEC) used to assess worm and fluke burdens and the correct anthelmintic product used.

Ewes should continue to be body condition scored over the coming weeks and action taken on thinner or older ewes to ensure they will be fit for breeding. Ensure all ewes with a history of prolapse, lack of milk or mismothering have been identified and culled prior to the start of the breeding season.

Feeding of beef cattle at grass

As damp or wet weather conditions creep in over the coming weeks, remember that grass dry matter (DM) will continue to fall and the quality of the grass will fall simultaneously. If grass covers are looking good on farm, farmers might find that beef cattle are not overly keen on their meal but this will change quite quickly should the wet weather arrive. Beef cattle coming close to finish will require supplementary feeding at grass to offset the drop in grass quality. Assess your finishing ration to make sure the highest quality ingredients are being used, ensuring a high energy ration with sufficient protein. As a rule of thumb cattle should be fed at a rate of 0.5kg/100kg of live weight where there is sufficient grass on farm and 1kg/100kg of live weight where grass is in shorter supply.

Closing off paddocks for spring

Hannah explains that while grass covers are precious for the breeding season on sheep farms, any fields that can be closed for the winter should be identified from October onwards. While it can be tempting to graze ewes on into the winter to shorten the housing period, these grass covers are far more precious in the spring time at turnout. Older swards of grass should be grazed down tight to 4cm over the next 4 weeks and allowed to grow over the winter to avoid heavy covers that will turn white with a mat of grass at the base of the sward. Heavier fields holding more water should also be closed and these can be used to graze ewes and lambs after lambing in spring.

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