Farm Ireland

Monday 11 December 2017

A poor time for grass growth

John Donworth

Grass growing was almost non-existent last week. Sharp frosts every night have meant that soil temperatures are at, or just below, zero.

Air temperatures during the day aren't much better. Consequently, we are having little or no grass growth.

On the plus side, ground conditions have improved dramatically, particularly on well-drained soil. This has meant that cows have been very busy removing all the dead material that has accumulated in our swards over the winter months. Calved cows have been able to clean out these swards right down to the base. This should ensure high quality grass in the second rotation, if and when grass growth recovers.

Dairy farmers have also used the good ground conditions to get out slurry. Remember, this is valuable slurry from a nitrogen point of view because each 1,000 gallons will contribute eight to 10 units of available nitrogen.

Many dairy farmers have stopped spreading bagged nitrogen, the reasoning being, why spread bagged nitrogen since ground temperatures are so low and there is little or no grass growth?

I look at it differently. Ground conditions for spreading could not be better. Fair enough, there is no growth at present, but getting nitrogen out is a job done at an increasingly busy time of the year.

The nitrogen won't disappear and the frost does it no harm. As soon as we get wind from the south, growth will start again. It's now nearly March, silage is scarce and we need all the grass growth we can get.

How poor a year so far for grass growth is well demonstrated by the figures from Curtin's farm. Last week, growth was only 2kg per day.

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This was due to the fact that in the past two weeks temperatures have moved between -20C and 20C. The cows are out day and night receiving 8kg of grass dry matter and 4kg of concentrates. Currently, there is no silage in the diet.

The spring rotation planner in operation at Curtin's is allocating either 1,000sqm (0.10ha), 1,100sqm (0.11ha) or 1,300sqm (0.13ha) ground per day, depending on the stocking rate.

By March 1 the target is to have 30pc of the farm grazed. They do not want to have more than 30pc grazed on that date and additional feed will be brought in to keep the percentage grazed in line.

Pre-grazing yields are currently at 1,400kg. Overall farm cover is at 600-650kg of dry matter per hectare, whereas the target for the time of the year is 800kg of dry matter. So, some more big feeding decisions are going to have to be made.

Last week, the first of the decisions was taken. The remaining dry cows were put on 6kg of soya hulls and straw. Any remaining silage will be kept for the milking cows.

Silage stocks are reaching critical levels out on dairy farms, and last week a number of farmers had bought soya hulls to fill the gap. With baled silage making between €30 and €40/bale, soya hulls at €140/t delivered are much better value. Soya hulls can be fed to all stock.

Protein content is 11pc and they are reasonably well balanced in trace elements. However, an eye needs to be kept on the overall protein content of the diet where straw is the source of roughage. I would recommend a minimum of 0.5kg of soya bean meal per animal in addition to the soya hulls.

I have made mention already of the spring rotation planner. Some of you used this tool last year to steer your way through the first rotation. It involves allocating a certain amount of ground each day to the cows.

It also has some built-in targets, such as 30pc of the first rotation grazed by March 1 and 66pc of the ground grazed by St Patrick's Day. This is where you are finishing your first rotation by April 5.

I have stated already that grazing conditions are ideal, but, boy, do we need some mild weather.

Irish Independent

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