Farm Ireland

Friday 28 October 2016

Dairy: Maximising grazed grass will be the priority this spring

Mary Kinston

Published 24/02/2016 | 02:30

Farmers eye up the cattle at Cillin Hill Mart, Kilkenny. Photo: Roger Jones.
Farmers eye up the cattle at Cillin Hill Mart, Kilkenny. Photo: Roger Jones.

With global milk prices falling again in recent months and with few farmers having received their milk cheques for January supply, we are still not really any the wiser to the price for spring milk, except to say it isn't improving.

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If you have created a financial budget for the year, the milk price was probably estimated on your best guess, and should be reviewed mid-season.

The main focus for 2016 should be on reducing the costs you can control while maintaining or increasing productivity. This means that maximising grazed grass is an absolute priority.

The weather is presently having a big impact on many farms and at this stage each farm has to work with their own set of conditions. As flagged by John Donworth in last week's edition, on-off grazing should be put to good use.

Unfortunately this option is dependent on your soil type and where you are farming. If your cows are still housed it's important to constantly assess your position by walking the odd sound paddock.

If mud squelches around your foot to leave a clearly defined welly boot print, the saturation level means you have to wait. If not, it's time to chance grazing!

Here in Kerry, grazing 30pc in February is now becoming unachievable as cows have been housed for the majority of the month.

Patience is an absolute virtue. Longer days, drying winds and sunny spells are needed. At some point things will improve on the wetter farms and grazing will commence.

If grazing in February, the focus should be on grazing the lighter covers of around 800-1000kgDM/ha.

Grazing lighter covers allows the cows to cover more ground, allows the grass to recover and start re-growing quicker, and means that smaller numbers of calved cows aren't crammed into a small section of the paddock which isn't desirable with regards to sward damage.

Heavy covers of greater than 1200kgDM/ha should always be saved for March grazing. In March over 50pc of the herd should be calved and the demand of the cow is really starting to ramp up, so the heavy covers help meet their ever increasing feed demand.

Heavy covers also slow them up and allow you to hit grazing rotation targets.

Increasing soil temperatures allow these heavy covers which are slower to recover to re-grow quicker than they would if grazed in February.

The spring rotation planner is a fabulous tool for spring grazing whether you started grazing in February or have had to wait until March.

The main objective of the spring rotation planner is to ration out the grass that you have by area.

Grazing more ground than the target is generally only done at your own peril.

Most rotation plans work on the first rotation length being around 65-58 days eg Feb 7 to April 12, and will promote around 30pc of the ground to be grazed in February.

However if like us, February grazing has been limited or non-existent, there are three approaches I would suggest;

As your first grazing rotation will be shorter reduce your starting rotation length from 1/100 by 10 days for every seven days shorter than 60 days, so for March 1 start grazing at 1/80 of grazing area

Missing February grazing means missing February grass growth on grazed areas which will require you to lengthen the end of your first rotation by around one week.

If you are commencing grazing on March 1, then I would suggest grazing 30pc of the farm by March 15, 65-70pc of farm by March 31, and leave the remaining 35-30pc for grazing up to April 15-20. Again graze lighter covers at the start and heavy covers post mid-March.

Indo Farming