Farm Ireland

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Dairy: We have never opened with such a high cover of grass

Caitriona Mullin, Volac at last week's Teagasc Calf to Beef event on Ben Sweeney's farm. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Caitriona Mullin, Volac at last week's Teagasc Calf to Beef event on Ben Sweeney's farm. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Henry Walsh

Henry Walsh

We are now entering the busiest time of the year for a dairy farmer with a spring calving herd.

Over the last number of years we have seen a planned move by most dairy herds to start calving from late January in the south and early February in the west and north. The calving start date on our farm is February 8.

This date works for us as we go to grass full-time night and day along with 3kg of a high energy 14pc dairy nut, Our opening grass cover this year is 1090kg/dm/ha having closed at a high 745kg/dm/ha on December 5.

The farm grew an exceptional 6kg/dm/ha of grass during the closed period of December and January.

We have never opened with such a high cover and we may fail to graze the required 30pc by March 1 on the spring rotation planner.

On a farm walk hosted by one of our discussion group during the week there was agreement that some farms may need to let out the yearlings.

We will probably let out a bunch of late calvers, (our yearlings have enough grass on the out farms) to graze a few paddocks and ensure the 30pc is achieved which should result in sufficient grass at the start of the second rotation starting on April 5.

Ground conditions are very wet so on/off grazing will be required until the weather dries up a bit. We will spread 23 units of urea when weather and ground conditions permit to ensure we stimulate grass growth. We will follow this with another 23 units in early March and a third application of 23 units of urea on April 1.

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We have been following this programme for the last 10 years and it was reaffirmed for us by Michael O'Donovan at the Irish Grasslands Conference in January where he stated that on the farms growing the highest tonnage of grass most of the extra grass grown was in the spring and all of them had at least 70 units of N applied by April 1.

Research is also showing that urea is effective throughout the entire grazing season and is currently 30pc cheaper than CAN so we will use it whenever possible to reduce fertiliser costs.

We have got very little slurry out on the Milking Platform so far this year due to wet ground and too much grass even on the paddocks grazed in late November and early December. We will consider getting the contractor with the trailing shoe or injection to spread the slurry behind the cows as they graze the first rotation.

This year we will be stocked at 3.4 cows/ha on the milking platform. We plan to feed the cows fully on grass throughout the grazing season while limiting supplementation to 500 kg of concentrate. Grass is the cheapest feed and we do not plan to reduce the fertiliser use for 2016 as it would limit the growth of grass and therefore be a false economy.

The calving has started a few days early no doubt due to the progress being made with short gestation AI sires and our crossbred herd. We have a small outdoor section of 20m by 10m woodchip pad with fresh woodchip as our calving box.

As the cows or heifers come near we move them to this section which normally has about 15 springing on it.


I attended two calf rearing events in the last month hosted by our veterinary practice and Aurivo Co-op. There was a massive focus on the importance of growing the calf well in the first eight weeks to ensure she calves down as a two year old.

They listed some shocking statistics stating less than half the heifers born in Ireland calve as two-year-olds and almost a third of the heifers never calf at all.

The clear messages were to feed three litres of good quality colostrum within two hours of birth because after six hours only 10pc of the antibodies cross through the lining of the stomach into the intestines.

Another very clear message was that shortly after calving as the cow begins to produce milk it has the effect of diluting and therefore weakening the colostrum.

Finally, they said colostrum deteriorates in quality if left in buckets in the dairy and ideally surplus colostrum should be frozen till required.

We will try to practice the advice given as it is a wonderful product and if used properly will help prevent a lot of problems in the first four weeks of the calf's life.

Henry and Patricia Walsh farm in Oranmore, Co Galway along with their son Enda and neighbour and out-farm owner John Moran

Indo Farming