Are you making the most of this bumper year for grass growth?

File photo
File photo

Mary Kinston

As autumn draws in, 2019 will be marked in my memory as one of the greatest years for grass growth.

Month after month, grass has just oozed out of the ground in our part of the country, with a mountain of pit silage and a colossal amount of silage bales banked.

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What a difference a year makes. While many of those badly affected in 2018 are still feeling the financial pain, I still feel that the drought did a lot of good to soil structure and health, which had a knock-on effect of this bumper grass-growing year.

I attended the Moorepark open day, and I can't help but reference the roadmap to increased grass utilisation as shown in the table for a self-sufficient farm stocked at 2.8 cows/ha, utilising 13tDM/ha.

Based on PastureBase findings, it's a nice table on which to base your own progress throughout the year.

For example, if you're using PastureBase, you can assess your accumulated grass growth at any point during the season. If by now you have exceeded 11 tonnes of grass grown - which many have - reaching 16 tonnes for the year seems a likely outcome.

At this stage we should have completed at least eight grazings per paddock.

Nitrogen applied should be over 80pc of the target for the year, and milk solids supplied around 65-70pc (to August 5).

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It's hard to use the meal fed as a target, as meal should only be used strategically to fill feed deficits and support stocking rate, but you can still make comparisons, and look at whether you have used this year's grass wisely.

We constantly track our progress, having grown 11.08 tonnes/ha, 5.8 grazings per paddock, 136kg N/ha including slurry, 515kg DM/hd of meal, and 307kg MS/cow produced.

These figures are far from ideal, and I will happily pick holes in the decisions made as I feel it's a necessary step to make strategic changes.

The first thing that strikes me is the amount of grass grown versus the amount of nitrogen applied. Given our low stocking rate and abundance of silage, we've strategically spread zero fertiliser for five weeks in July/August.

You could summarise that the farm appears to have been somewhat nutrient efficient, which is of increasing importance as we pay more attention to our environmental impact.

The farm will now be blanket spread with 30-50units N/acre depending on paddock spreading to date. Blanket spreading is used in autumn as it has minimal impact on grass growth and soil compaction, while being labour efficient.

A mixture of straight nitrogen or compounds such as 24:2.5:10 or 18:6:12 are being used based on the total nutrients spread to date.

The aim was to forge grass growth on to aid building the farm cover and extending the rotation to 30 days by the start of this month.

Stretch

The next target will be to continue to stretch the rotation to 45 days in October. Obviously 5.8 grazings for the year is disappointing but it is a function of a low stocking rate, silage cuts and reseeding 10pc of the area. Given the grass grown and stocking rate, having fed 515kg/hd is a missed opportunity. We should have captured more of this growth as grazed grass rather than silage by simply reducing feeding rates sooner in spring.

Production of 315kg MS/hd at 75pc of supply year to date will suggests a total supply of 420kg, which I'm happy with considering herd age profile and genetic merit.

However, our main objective is year-on-year improvements.

Irrespective of our figures, it's important for each of us to take stock and relate our results to our decisions while they are fresh in the memory.

It's a simple process which can help you consider any potential changes that need to be made.

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

Indo Farming


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