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Sunday 4 December 2016

Dairy: Grass shortage looms as rain takes its toll

Henry Walsh

Published 06/04/2016 | 02:30

Kilkenny hurler and farmer Lester Ryan working in the new 14-unit milking parlour on the farm in Clara, Co Kilkenny. Photo: Roger Jones.
Kilkenny hurler and farmer Lester Ryan working in the new 14-unit milking parlour on the farm in Clara, Co Kilkenny. Photo: Roger Jones.

The spring of 2016 continues to be a major challenge. The rain continues to fall relentlessly and now at the start of April there have only been 10 dry days so far this year to balance the 80 wet ones we have endured.

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Our grass situation has changed dramatically since early February when there was an absolute feast of grass available for the cows to the present where it is very scarce.

Our farm cover has now dropped to 340kg/DM/ha from a massive opening cover of 1090 kg/DM/ha. While we have definitely wasted some grass due to the wet weather and poor ground conditions, the real problem is the lack of growth due to cold saturated ground.

While there is a good green colour on the farm now most of the ground has been heavily marked during the first rotation and growth last week came in at only 13kg/DM/ha.

This is massively short of our current demand of 50kg/DM/ha per day so we are supplementing with silage and 4kg of a 14pc nut at present. These actions bring our demand down to 29 kg/DM/ha daily and the hope is that the farm will exceed that figure this week coming and allow us to remove the silage and reduce the concentrate usage.

The intended 70 units of nitrogen has been applied so now the missing ingredient is heat.

We started our second rotation by night on March 29 and by day on April 4. This is a few days earlier than I am happy with so we will buffer with silage at milking time. Covers on the first paddocks grazed are too low at 850kg/DM/ha but we are hopeful the promised rise in temperatures will arrive and boost growth.

The herd are under pressure because they have now endured six weeks of on/off grazing and it is taking its toll on body condition as well as lameness due to wet ground and standing on concrete. There are 10 cows on OAD at present to look after them. Currently the herd are milking 22.5l at 4.80pc fat and 3.31pc protein which is 1.88kg/MS per cow. This is low protein percentage for our herd and reflects the amount of silage in the diet.

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Locally the grass situation is serious and with silage pits nearly empty there is an unexpected demand emerging for round bales. Most bales are not suitable for milking cows which will have a knock on effect on milk output as well as protein percentage.

Some of our neighbours have been 'Zero Grazing' over the last few years from out farms and they are finding the grass covers are just not there to cut. The simple truth is we are enduring a very difficult and expensive spring combined with very low milk prices with no sign of light in the tunnel.

We had the vet out twice to cows with chills and to wash out after twins etc. We will monitor these cows to ensure they get the best chance possible to go back in calf. Over the next week we will tail paint all cows to observe heat activity and help to identify non cyclers. We will also complete the vaccinations.

New BVD strain

Our local veterinary practice held a skillnet supported training day and we heard about the launch of a new single shot BVD vaccine that covers a second strain not yet found in Ireland.

This strain is rampant in Europe and moving towards us so not alone have we the challenge of PI calves being left on farms in Ireland it appears we now have a new strain to deal with.

The single shot option is very attractive instead of having to follow up with a booster. The technician giving the talk stated that only 25pc of vaccinations are done properly and that the rest of the treatments were unreliable for a number of reasons.

They included incorrect amount of product used,incorrect method of administration eg into the muscle instead of under the skin and vice versa. Not going with the booster after the correct amount of days or using a product that does not cover the strain causing the problem on your farm.

When you factor in all of these failings with a wet or dirty hide and the workload in spring there really is a massive probability we are not implementing the programmes to give the vaccines the optimum chance of working. No doubt the result is breakdowns and a lot of money wasted on vaccines.

We vaccinated, gave boluses and weighed the yearling heifers last week and their average weight was only 270kg. This is light even for a crossbred herd. They have 40 days to go till breeding and we need for them to put on a kilo a day to get near the required weight.

This time of the year due to workload I am not willing to travel to the outfarm with meal daily so the only option is to allocate them sufficient good quality grass.

Calf rearing has become more difficult this year as for the first time rotavirus has come into the calf sheds. This makes calf rearing a chore and results in more work and costs to get them through. This is a huge disappointment as calf rearing was going super for the first month.

We have the older calves on grass and feeding milk replacer with the mobile milk tank. They are thriving outdoors with shelter from trees and eating almost a kg of ration each daily along with their milk. The sooner we can get the next 40 heifer calves out the better.

On a lighter note we are seeing a wonderful cultural display of our history in the enactment of so many events to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising. Locally in the town of Athenry there was a massive turnout estimated at 5,000 people on Easter Monday for a day of remembrance and celebration.

My grandfather and his brothers were actively involved in the rising and the day was marked by the reading of the proclamation, the unveiling of a sculpture of Cuchulainn and tributes to local warrior Liam Mellows who lead the largest rebellion outside the capital during the Rising.

A parade through the town was led by representatives of the GAA clubs across the county. The Liam Mellows commemorative garden was officially opened and features themes from famine times and the struggles around land ownership.

Henry and Patricia Walsh farm in Oranmore, Co Galway along with their son Enda and neighbour and outfarm owner John Moran

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