Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Sunday 4 December 2016

Ireland's top grass grower

Published 20/05/2015 | 02:30

Track record: Mick Magan (33) studied Ag Science in UCD and worked in New Zealand for nine months before returning home to the family farm in 2007
Track record: Mick Magan (33) studied Ag Science in UCD and worked in New Zealand for nine months before returning home to the family farm in 2007

Listening to Mick Magan explain his grass production system, you would be forgiven for thinking that it's pretty much the same as any other well-run pasture farm in the country.

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That's before you see the figures. Last year, Magan recorded a massive 18.8t/ha of drymatter (DM) production across his 36ha milking platform in Co Longford. That's almost treble the national average.

If a cereal grower produces a 5t/ac yield of grain at 20pc moisture, they're regarded as top-class. A six tonne crop at similar moistures, equating to 4.8t/ac of drymatter, would be considered exceptional. But the Magans in Killashee in mid-Longford are producing 7.6t/ac of drymatter. Golden Vale, how are you!

Mick's dad is Mike, who is well-known throughout farming circles for his roles in Lakeland Dairies, the Holstein Friesian Association, Animal Health Ireland, and the Agricultural Trust.

"People don't realise it, but good land in this region has the capacity to out-produce any part of the country. We don't suffer from the droughts that often hit more coastal areas, and we don't get the kind of rainfall that farmers in the western half of the country cope with," says Mike.

The proof is in the pudding, with figures from Teagasc's PastureBase showing that two farms last year produced more than 18t/ha of grass drymatter. One was in Kerry, while the other was in the small village of Killashee.

The massive grass output is also translating into impressive milk production per hectare. With the absence of milk quotas, the best dairy farmers now have their focus very firmly on output per hectare, since land is seen as the new limitation on what any farm can produce.

Concentrates

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So I'm impressed when Mick reveals that they sold 514kg of milk solids per cow in 2014. But the real wow factor is the fact that the milking platform produced 2,421kg of milk solids per hectare.

This was achieved with concentrate feeding of 1.3t/cow - along with 7ha of maize grown for the cows - and production is up 8pc sp far this year.

The biggest reason for the stellar numbers is the massive stocking rate that the milking platform is carrying. It's stocked at 4.71 cows per hectare on an annual basis, a figure that rises to an eye-watering six cows per hectare at the peak of the grazing season.

"That's only when the grass growth is at full tilt at maybe 120kgDM per day," says Mick.

"But having such high stocking rates results in a lot of nutrients being recycled on the ground. We even see that on the night paddocks that are closer to the parlour, where the cows spend more time. That's where our top fields are - the best last year was 21.5tDM/ha."

The high stocking rate also helps Mick achieve his target of utilising 85pc of the grass that he grows, by grazing out fields of lush grass to the butt in just 2-3 grazings.

"The first grazing in February will be in reasonably light covers because you can't expect cows to transition from an indoor diet into heavy covers and graze it out perfectly. They take a week or two to get used to working the grass covers down again," he says.

"If you let the cows away with eating just half or three-quarters of what's available, you end up creating problems for yourself the next time you're back in that field. You really have to graze every paddock to the butt, every time, otherwise the system just doesn't work"

What about using a topper to clean up stemmy pastures?

"They're the toppers - they're here to work," replies Mick gesturing at the cows. "It can be tough when they come back into a field the third time, and they can be unhappy for a few hours, but they'll be very well rewarded when they get to the next grazing. If conditions turn very bad, we switch to on-off grazing (removing the cows from the field after a few hours of grazing), which is a pain, but a necessary one."

Monitoring and managing grass becomes a key feature of the Longford farmer's weekly routine during key grass-growth months.

"For the first two years we were cutting and weighing grass in every paddock, but we're able to eye-ball it accurately now.

"But I find myself going out to measure grass every five days at the height of the grazing season to keep up with how it's progressing. If it gets past that three-leaf stage (1,400-1,600kgDM/ha), I won't put the cows into it.

"Instead, it gets baled for silage. That's the only way that you'll keep your grass utilisation really high. I'm aiming for 90pc utilisation when conditions are good," he says.

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