Farm Ireland

Wednesday 22 November 2017

After a bad week, stretching the first rotation till mid-April is still correct

John Donworth

Last week was a tough one out on dairy farms. Low dry matter, grass ground cutting up, silage stocks all but wiped out and all the time farmers' morale on the floor.

The lift in milk prices with some processors was the one piece of good news in an otherwise depressing week. We are now into the first week in April; cow intake is reaching its peak and very soon cows will reach their peak milk supply.

Last year, cows did not peak at all, and there is a grave danger of the same thing happening again. Achieving a decent peak yield is important because of its effect on total lactation yield.

Cow performance is currently being affected due to a number of factors. The chief problem is the lack of grass in the paddocks and the fact that silage is still in the diet. Silage is still needed in the diet, simply because there is not enough grass on the milking block. Many farmers are just out of silage or have very little left in the pit.


So where to from here for farmers? At this stage it's very difficult to give advice, since our problems will not be sorted until air temperatures return to their normal 12-14°C and the wind blows from the south.

I have mentioned already that April is a critical month on dairy farms. It's an important month from a cow nutrition point of view. A cow's milk yield generally peaks at 70 days after calving. The majority of our herds will peak at 25l (5.5gals). If we manage to achieve that at 3.6pc fat and 3.30pc protein then the cows will have produced 1.77kg of milk solids.

Achieving a decent peak yield is important as it will affect total lactation yield. Now, I know from many of you that cow production/ha is the driver. And, certainly, if you are at an overall stocking rate of 2.8lu/ha, then kilogrammes of milk solids/ha is the driver.

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But if you are at anything like 2.47 cows/ha (one cow/ acre) on a milking block, then cow output is very important. At this stocking rate cows need to be producing 430-450kg of milk solids to get any half-decent production per hectare. We should be targeting milk solids production of 1,250kgs/ha. At 2.5cows/ha, cows would need to be producing 500kg each to achieve 1,250kg. Now, that is a tall order.

So where does all that leave us in a bad week? Cows must continue to be fed well. Grass is extremely scarce and last week cows were only getting 4-5kg of grass dry matter.

The wet weather has dictated that cows needed to be housed by night. In any case, there isn't enough grass out on the paddocks to give them a feed after evening milking. Cows have, at most, only covers of 700-800kgs of dry matter ahead of them.

And the advice about trying to stretch the first rotation until April 10 and maybe even April 15 is still correct.

In the current scenario, with cows only getting 4-5kg of grass dry matter, they will need a further 11-12kg of dry matter from some other source. With silage stocks nearly depleted, I would increase ration usage to 8kg and try to find 3-4kg of dry matter from the depleted silage stocks. Eight kilos of ration is heavy feeding but it looks like we are into at least 10 days of it. This can be fed in two feeds.

Ideally, cows could receive 6kg of ration in the parlour and 3kg of some cheap form of ration as a midday feed. Soya hulls are ideal here but they have become scarce and are also coming close to the cost of a course ration. One is hoping all the time that next week will be better, but there isn't much more that can be thrown at dairy farmers this spring.

However, there is a positive here. Due to the fact that paddocks were so well grazed out in March, grass quality in the second rotation will be excellent.

However, there is one problem appearing on the horizon. It is all going to come together.

The shape of the grass wedge on dairy farms is very flat. This could mean that we will have grass surpluses at the end of the second rotation. Now, wouldn't that be a grand thought, and all without concentrates in the diet.

Irish Independent