Henry Walsh: 'It's been a dream spring for grass growth'

Track record: Henry Walsh has gone from milking 50 cows with 230,000 litre of quota in 1996 to 250 cows and 1.2m litres.
Track record: Henry Walsh has gone from milking 50 cows with 230,000 litre of quota in 1996 to 250 cows and 1.2m litres.
Henry Walsh

Henry Walsh

What a difference a year makes. It's been a dream spring and incredibly at our stocking rate we have now finished the first rotation as planned with almost no silage fed to milking cows this spring and an average of less than 3kg of meal per day.

While we endured a very wet spell in mid March, the ground was well able to take it with almost no damage.

This should stand to us on the second and third rotations as grass realises its potential without compaction or root damage.

We started the second rotation by night on April 4 with covers of around 1,000 kg/dm/ha. While this is a little on the low side, we still have first rotation grass by day until April 10.

These covers were exceptionally high by comparison to other years at 2,300 kg/dm/ha.

This has been the case all spring and meant the cows were content. I have always preferred to mix first and second rotation grass for a week this time of year to ease them into the lower dry matters. I also find this is the most dangerous time of the year for grass tetany, often a day after a cow has shown a very active heat and maybe picks up a chill or otherwise.

Farm cover now is at 650kg/ha. After a cold week, growth is at 22kg/dm/ha, well below our current demand of 48kg/dm/ha. This time of year usually sees the arrival of 'magic day' so I am willing to sail a bit closer to the wind on farm cover and allow it to drop to 450kg/dm/ha.

This means that at current growth rates we can continue as is for another eight days till April 17. Temperatures are to recover to normal levels this week and because we had 70 units per acre of N out, plus nine of sulphur, the farm is set up to grow. In the event of a deficit we will increase meal from current levels of 2.5kg or maybe introduce some second-cut grass bales from last August.

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Currently, the herd is producing 25 litres at 4.5pc fat and 3.4pc protein or 2kg/ms/day.

My son Enda body condition-scored the herd two weeks ago and put about 20 cows on OAD as they were below the cut-off BCS of 2.75. We hosted our discussion group walk last week with breeding being one of the topics on the agenda. This was a very timely reminder of the actions we can take to improve our six-week in-calf rate. These include ensuring cows are at the correct BCS, washing out cows and identifying non cycling cows by pre-breeding tail painting.

Another point that surfaced was the numbers of replacement heifers being born and kept. This is a very positive reflection on the progress made on fertility in the dairy herd over the last 15 years as a result of crossbreeding and EBI and the very positive benefits of short gestation easy calving bulls. The demand for dairy heifers over the last number of years is probably now satisfied. Has the time come to just breed dairy AI to our best cows for as little as the first three weeks to satisfy our own herd requirements? After that what do we use? The criteria must include easy calving, short gestation with beefing characteristics that compliment the dairy cow. Female would be very helpful but the sexed semen discussion is still a work in progress.

Locally, I have been asked to partake in a 'Future of Agriculture' event this Thursday evening (April 11) in the Oranmore Lodge. Guest speakers will include MEP Mairead McGuinness, Teagasc economist Emma Dillon Teagasc economist and IFA president Joe Healy.

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

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