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Gerard Sherlock: Some serious drying has seen us record our earliest ever full-time spring turnout of cows

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Gerard Sherlock farms at Tydavnet, Co Monaghan

Gerard Sherlock farms at Tydavnet, Co Monaghan

Turnaround: The exceptional drying conditions in March have allowed farmers get cows out full-time earlier than anticipated in Monaghan after the record rainfall figures in January and February

Turnaround: The exceptional drying conditions in March have allowed farmers get cows out full-time earlier than anticipated in Monaghan after the record rainfall figures in January and February

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Gerard Sherlock farms at Tydavnet, Co Monaghan

It's been five weeks since my last column, and who could have predicted then what was to happen? It’s been a hectic five weeks for dairy farmers, with so much happening at farm level, and it has been difficult to comprehend all that was happening outside the farm gate.

All we can do for now is continue to farm in a safe way, taking all the precautions we can to keep ourselves and our families healthy.

As always the weather dictated our workload, and once the rain stopped it was all go.

We had very heavy rain here on St Patrick’s Day, but within four days cows were back out grazing and thankfully have been out since. The east wind that blew for a good few days did nothing for growth, but it certainly dried the ground, which was needed.

For three weeks cows grazed outdoors and were being brought back in around 9.30pm each night. They were eating very little silage.

Cows have been outdoors full-time now since April 6. This is the earliest full-time turnout ever on this farm.

The AFC last week was 750kgs. The cover/LU was at 234kgs at a stocking rate of 3.21 LU/ha. I had 59pc of the farm grazed last Friday.

Grass dry matters were very high, leaving contented cows with excellent clean-outs.

The controlling factor now for grazing is the start of the second rotation. I need to have around 1,000 -1,100kgs grass cover on a few paddocks as I begin the second rotation.

Last week some of the first grazed paddocks had regrowths of 400-600 kg covers. Given the good growth rates at present, these should be ready for grazing at the end of this week.

The quality of the second rotation depends on fertiliser applications — 57pc of the milking platform got 23 units nitrogen in early February. The complete milking platform got 46 units nitrogen in mid-March using a quad and sower. This worked very well as all paddocks were sown, leaving no tracks, and it was every bit as quick as the tractor. The rest of the grazing blocks also got 30 units.

This week I am following the grazed paddocks with two bags of 18-6-12+S to meet the target of 100 N by May 1. Some paddocks also got watery slurry where it was suitable. All of the silage fields were sown on March 30, with 80 units nirogen in the form of urea 40+S and Sulpha Cut used depending on indexes.

I see a fair amount of chickweed growing. It will have to be sprayed soon. The milking cows are currently producing 28.7 litres at 4.19pc butter-fat, 3.35pc protein, 4.78 lactose giving 2.23kg MS/cow/day, TBC 8000, SCC 134, Therm. 30. Milk urea is 24. The cows are getting 13kg of grass, 4kg of a 16pc protein nut.

Breeding

Breeding will begin next week. Through the sire advice programme and using the criteria of high fertility sub-index and above 30kg F+P, a team of seven bulls will be used – FR4728, 4547, 4760, 4414, 4513, 4686, 4481.

I am using some sexed semen on the maiden heifers, who all went to grass on the out-farm on March 31.

For breeding I will bring them back and carry them on the milking platform for the two to three weeks for ease of AI. Cows have been showing strong heats and have been recorded.

Vasectomised bulls and chinballs are at the ready. I did wash out a few cows that were dirty or had twins. There are about 12 cows left to calve.

The first group of calves have been weaned off milk replacer. They were eating at least 2kg/day of a grower nut and straw.

Recently I have had a few cases of calf scour; it was nothing too serious and they just needed powders and time. Unfortunately, the warmer weather encourages more bugs to spread.

The discussion group meeting on my farm didn’t happen due to the Covid-19 restrictions. Neither did the second Grass10 meeting. We used WhatsApp and a conference call, respectively. Both worked very well.

The main thing is for all farmers to keep in touch with each other and share any problems and experiences.

I reckon the key for the foreseeable future is to just keep the farm ticking over.

The basic principle of producing as much quality milk as cheaply as possible is critical now.

The priority for the next six weeks is to have good quality grass in front of all animals, breed the cows and heifers, make good first-cut silage and, most importantly, farm in a safe and healthy manner.

Indo Farming