Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Monday 5 December 2016

Profit to be made by cutting poaching and keeping your cows out grazing

Mary Kinston

Published 09/11/2010 | 05:00

From left, Finola McCoy, Teagasc Moorepark; Stuart Childs, Teagasc Kilmallock; Tom O'Dwyer, Teagasc programme manager in dairying; David Moriarty, Mitchelstown; and Sean Kearney, Kilbeheny, Co Limerick, launch Teagasc's National Dairy Conference, which is titled 'Dairying: Entering a Decade of Opportunity' and takes place in Charleville, Co Cork (November 17), and Mullingar, Co Westmeath (November 18)
From left, Finola McCoy, Teagasc Moorepark; Stuart Childs, Teagasc Kilmallock; Tom O'Dwyer, Teagasc programme manager in dairying; David Moriarty, Mitchelstown; and Sean Kearney, Kilbeheny, Co Limerick, launch Teagasc's National Dairy Conference, which is titled 'Dairying: Entering a Decade of Opportunity' and takes place in Charleville, Co Cork (November 17), and Mullingar, Co Westmeath (November 18)

Last month provided us with around 40pc more sunshine than normal, making it the sunniest October for more than 40 years at several stations according to Met Eireann.

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So it is no surprise that there is many a higher grass cover than budgeted or what has been experienced in previous years at the beginning of November.

Obviously this is a positive situation in many ways, particularly the fact that less supplementary feed is required and more cows can be milked on grass for longer. However, there are two issues in terms of pasture management that need to be given serious consideration at this stage in the game:

  • Minimising poaching;
  • Winter closure of pasture.

The rain has come, for many in substantial amounts, which is making grazing conditions challenging, so obviously the first consideration is to minimise poaching.

As we all know, treading on wet soils, resulting in poaching damage, can affect pasture production and the soil's structural resilience.

It can directly damage or destroy plant growing points, leaves, tillers and roots, and can alter the equilibrium between soil particles, air and water, and therefore impede grass root development and reduce root mass and uptake of nutrients.

On wet farms, a high likelihood of poaching is often one of the main factors determining the cessation of grazing in autumn and the housing of stock. However, minimising poaching and having the confidence and ability to keep the cows grazing has a suggested worth of €2.50/cow/day in additional profit.

When grazing in wet conditions the aim is to reduce the distance that animals have to walk on a growing sward. So having multiple entrances into a paddock, from well-crowned, wide roadways is essential. Day-to-day management will require on-off grazing.

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Two periods of four-and-a-half hours grazing after milking in the autumn can achieve 95pc of the intake done by cows given 22 hours of access. This is due to the dairy cow's natural compulsion to graze after periods of fasting, with a substantial reduction in the time a cow spends ruminating, walking, or idling whilst on the pasture.

To be effective, this means not feeding cows silage whilst standing-off. It requires using narrow temporary lanes to access the back of paddocks, and either strip grazing with back fence or grazing in blocks.

On the other hand is the issue of winter closure, as many farmers still have a pasture cover in excess of 800kg DM/ha and even up to 1,200kg DM/ha available at the November 1, even though around 60pc of the farm may have been grazed.

Given the recent growing conditions it is essential to do a farm walk now to measure covers and identify paddocks with excess of 1,500kg DM/ha. Paddocks with covers of above 1,500kg DM/ha available at the beginning of November need to be grazed off, whether included in the 60pc closed or not.

This is to minimise risk to winter burn, maximise growth during the remainder of autumn, winter and early spring, and reduce the proportion of dead material within the sward.

It's just one of those years where looking at your feed budget targets, especially your closing cover, is as important as the area closed to date. My reason for concern on this matter is that periodically Mother Nature likes to remind us sharply that it does not pay to neglect winter management of grassland. Last year was a classic example of this with damage to swards with heavy covers from winter burn, which compounded slow growth rates.

If you do decide to winter some heavy autumn covers and graze these off during winter expect lower growth rates from these paddocks in spring, as removal of the cover exposes the remaining plant tissue to low temperatures, which causes a physiological shock to the plant.

So while the beauty of dairy farming is the variability from season to season and year to year, with this comes challenge. Mother Nature has provided us with plenty of grass but challenging grazing conditions. Being mindful of these two issues will help you protect pasture cover for next spring.

Mary Kinston is an independent dairy advisor based in Kerry.

maryk@primefields.co.uk

Irish Independent