It seems likely grass growth this spring could be two to three weeks later than normal.
Experts at SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), are predicting it will take much longer to reach T-Sum 200, the calculation which indicates when soils have warmed sufficiently for grass growth to begin.
This is not good news in a season when straw and good quality forage is already in short supply. The ‘Beast from the East’ storms have done little to help the situation.
Basil Lowman, beef adviser at SAC Consulting, says: “A late spring could not be at a worse time. Not only are many farms already short of forage due to last summer’s wet weather, which forced many stock to be housed much earlier than normal, but potentially as problematic is a severe shortage of straw to bed stock.
“Many farmers with suckler herds, block calving dairy herds and housed flocks time calving and lambing so stock can be immediately turned out on to clean, high-quality spring grass.
"Being forced to keep animals indoors could pose a major additional disease challenge for newborn animals this spring. With a real risk of a late spring, it is best to plan now and minimise problems later.”
Although he admits it might seem counter-intuitive, Dr Lowman suggests the option of delaying turnout for the earliest calvers.
These cows could then be synchronised and artificially inseminated. The remainder of the herd could be turned out to grass.
“This would reduce demand for silage and grazing. It would also allow the youngest calves, which are most susceptible to disease build-up, to be turned out with their mothers. These later calving cows will also benefit from a longer transition in diet before cycling and breeding commences,” says Dr Lowman.
“Overall, this could help avoid an extended calving period often associated with a late spring. The early calving group can then be turned out to grass once they are over seven days inseminated.”
Steps livestock farmers can take to combat the late spring include: