Winter grazing is a balancing act
We are currently milking 240 cross-bred cows on a free draining 80ha milking platform which consists of both owned and leased land. Our target is to milk 280 cows in 2016 giving a stocking rate of 3.5 cows/ha. The herd is yielding 18 litres at 4.7pc fat and 3.95pc protein - 1.6kg of milk solids on 0.8kg of a 14pc nut.
Along with Noel O'Toole we hosted the Irish Grassland Association summer tour last July. One of the areas that generated a lot of interest was our achievement of a 290 day grazing season on the milking platform and the implementation of a winter grazing programme on the outfarms. Our overall stocking rate is 2.2LU/ha on a dry farm with average rainfall of 1,250mm (50in) per annum.
Our target is to reduce costs during the winter period by including as much grazed grass in the diet as possible. This involves bringing the animals to the grass rather than the norm of bringing the grass/silage to the housed cows. To achieve this the lime, phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) status of the soil needs to be index 3 and nitrogen must be applied in August to boost grass growth.
Over the years this practice has allowed us to increase cow numbers and continue to expand the herd and generate milk sales before we put the winter housing in place.
It has also resulted in grazed grass replacing more expensive feeds such as silage and concentrates.
In this article I am going to focus on the role of the outfarms whose function is to rear the young stock and provide all the winter feed for the herd during the dry period in the form of silage or winter grazing.
While there is adequate slurry storage in the lagoon, we do not have enough housing, therefore some cows and heifers are out-wintered. This process starts on August 15 every year when we bale any surplus grass to ensure a clean base.
We then apply 1.5 bags per acre of 18-6-12 along with one bag of 50pc K. Demand is currently 18kg of drymatter (DM) per hectare on the outside blocks and this allows us to build covers for winter grazing.