Farm Ireland

Saturday 21 April 2018

Dairy: Grass quality is excellent with the mercury levels finally rising

The FTMTA Grass & Muck Show in Gurteen College was living up to its name as Michael Clavin, from Horseleap, Co. Offaly and his son Patrick (7) found.
The FTMTA Grass & Muck Show in Gurteen College was living up to its name as Michael Clavin, from Horseleap, Co. Offaly and his son Patrick (7) found.

Mary Kinston

As I walked the farm last week, it was as if you could see the grass growing in front of you. We're finally here, at that point where grass growth exceeds grass demand.

After a long drawn out spring, some may come to question whether it will ever turn, but on the law of average, at some point it generally comes right.

It's quite important to recognise the change required in management style.

Early spring requires conservative grass management, where it generally always pays to err on the side of caution by supplementing rather than chancing it to reduce the impact of a grass deficit. Then follows a period requiring patience in mid-spring, when cow demand teeters around level with grass growth to finally being pro-active and taking a degree of risk that grass growth rates will continue to generate surpluses.

May is such an important month for the cow as mating starts and is now in full swing. Weighing up what has come to pass, some farmers may feel that it's a spring they would rather not experience again, but personally I'm starting to think that the May grass situation couldn't be much better.

Grass quality is excellent because of the brilliant clean out of paddocks in the second round when grass supply was tight, and because of the rise in soil temperature, it is in ample supply to allow cows to meet that rising plane of nutrition, which aids mating activity and submission for bulling.

It's no surprise that the farmers I have spoken to are happy with the level of activity and daily submission rates.

The first three weeks of mating is as high pressured as the midst of calving, as achieving compact calving is the key link between the pasture and cow in order to achieve a high level of performance in the subsequent year as it determines days in milk of the herd.

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Good operators are diligent and actively manage the herd to result in compact calving spread. To do this needs measurement, targets and triggers.


Targets are areas to strive for and triggers are prompts to investigate a problem and act on it.

The first key to compact calving are the maiden heifers. At this stage, whether they are small or on target, these should have been mated at the same time or even a week earlier than the main herd.

When focusing on the milking herd, pregnancy and achieving a good six-week in-calf rate, relies on two important drivers.

1) Submission rate

2) Conception rate

Obviously pregnancy will not occur unless a cow is put up for AI or the bull and she conceives to that service.

Therefore it's very important that we record AI/bull inseminations accurately and use these to determine your three-week submission rate.

The submission rate is ­calculated from the number of cows inseminated in the first 21 days divided by the number of cows available at the start of mating.

Please note that it is the number of cows, not the number of inseminations, as some cows may have had two services in this 21-day period. It's also important to note that the number of cows available must also include the late calvers, especially if it is a cow you are planning on getting back in calf and keeping for next year.

The only cows to be omitted from this calculation are cows actively not mated and definite culls. The target three-week submission rate is 90pc.

If it is less than 80pc, seek advice and consider your heat detection and the management options for non-cycling cows.

The submission rate target can also be considered on a daily basis.

For example, if you had 100 cows and were targeting 90pc at 21 days, which is 90 cows, then you would hope for an average of around four to five cows per day for AI to be reaching your 90pc submission rate target (90 cows/21 days = 4.3 cows/day).

Obviously a key element to a good submission rate is good heat detection, and even though we are in the middle of mating, it's still important to ask yourself whether improvements could be made in this area.

Personally, for the cows I like tail paint - and in the scale of things, tail paint is cheap, so use plenty of it and regularly top up the cows to aid detection.

When applying tail paint, paint the backbone from the hips to the tail head. Once applied, it all hangs on the operator's ability to detect.

Remember if you have new or young staff helping you this year, make sure they are aware of all the signs to look out for and don't just assume that these are already known.

A cow is on heat if:

• She is standing to be mounted by other cows

• Tail paint is removed or heat mount detector is triggered.

However, a cow may be on heat if:

• She attempts to mount other cows

• Tail paint is rubbed but not removed, or heat mount detector is lost

• She is restless or bellowing

• She has poor milk let-down

• You see mucus around the vulva

• You see mud marks on the flanks, or rubbing on pins and tail head.

Mary Kinston is a discussion group facilitator and consultant, and farms with her husband in Co Kerry

Indo Farming