Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Tuesday 21 February 2017

Use grass wedge to plan your feed needs in winter

Published 15/06/2010 | 05:00

GAINS TO BE MADE: The wedge is very straightforward and it's a useful tool in helping to keep grass at the three-leaf stage for
cows at each grazing. There is half a gallon of milk per day to be gained by maintaining the right grass quality in June and July
GAINS TO BE MADE: The wedge is very straightforward and it's a useful tool in helping to keep grass at the three-leaf stage for cows at each grazing. There is half a gallon of milk per day to be gained by maintaining the right grass quality in June and July

The challenge for farmers from a grazing point of view is staying on top of the grass situation and using the grass wedge to make the best decisions.

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The wedge is very straightforward and it's a useful tool in helping to keep grass at the three-leaf stage for cows at each grazing. There is half a gallon of milk per day to be gained by maintaining the right grass quality in June and July.

If the wedge indicates that you have surplus grass, one solution is to remove this surplus by cutting paddocks for baled silage. Most silage pits were emptied last winter, especially on highly stocked farms, so the extra silage you cut now could be badly needed next winter.

If your first cut of silage is already harvested, or on the point of harvest, you will have an idea of where you stand for next winter's feed, but you should also be looking at your additional feed options.

First of all, decide on how many animals you intend to carry over winter? You then need to calculate how much feed these animals require for a normal winter and it's a good idea to factor in a reserve of feed for unforeseen issues.

If you take an 80-cow herd with 25 replacements on 48ha as an example, they will have a normal winter requirement of 800t of pit silage. Having one month's reserve feed will add another 175t to your requirement.

If 50pc of the farm was set for the first cut, and the yield was good at 10t per acre, this cut would provide about 600t.

It's then a question of looking at other sources of winter feed. If you look to your grass area, these options might include closing an area for second cut silage or applying more nitrogen for bales off the grazing area.

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Off-farm, grain off the combine could be good value at the harvest. There is also the option of having a reserve of straw to be used with meal if needed.

Alternative forage crops like kale or rape are also worth looking at. Early sown kale can yield 8-10t DM/ha, but it needs to be sown now. Moorepark researchers have been successful in feeding replacement heifers outdoors on kale.

Incomes

Last week's Teagasc National Farm Survey confirmed what every dairy farmer would have known from last year. Family Farm Income on specialist dairy farms fell by 48pc to an average of €23,684 in 2009. This is part of an unrelenting downwards trend, from €51,017 in 2007 to €45,732 in 2008.

The huge efforts to reduce costs on farms last year was reflected in the Teagasc data. Direct costs were down 8pc, while overhead costs dropped by 16pc on specialised dairy units.

The significant on-farm investment made by dairy farmers is also clear from the survey's figures. Seventy-four pc of dairy farms made an average gross new investment of €13,623 on their farm last year. This is in addition to the high levels of investment made in previous years.

While these were the headline figures there were a few other interesting figures on the income situation on specialised dairy farms across the country.

The average direct subsidy was €20,663 and accounted for 20pc of gross output on specialised dairy units. So even in a bad year like last year, 80pc of the farms' output is coming from the marketplace. This is higher than for all other farm enterprises.

It's also worth noting that for the first time specialised dairy farms in REPS had a higher average Family Farm Income (€25,432) than those dairy farms outside the scheme (€22,504).

If the market for milk products remains as volatile as it has been in recent years, ring-fencing the direct payments for family income is likely to become an increasingly prudent option.

Irish Independent



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