Henry Walsh: Spring is off to a positive start but after 2018, we are taking no chances
The spring 2019 calving season is kicking off on a positive note.
There is plenty of grass around and even though breeding began on May 3, as it has done for the last 17 years, we are seeing more and more cows (10pc) calve before their due date -and scanning predicts 65pc calved inside the first three weeks.
Good ground conditions following a very mild and fairly dry winter, perhaps the best ever, have led to exceptional winter grass growth across our region.
We measured 9 kg/DM/ha (up from 4 kg/ha average for the last 10 years) from closing on December 1 to our opening walk on February 1. Our opening farm cover of 1,100 kg/ha is the highest we have ever recorded.
The extra grass grown (5kg x 60 days = 300 kg/DM/ha @€270 tonne = €80 on every ha) will directly replace purchased concentrates which will bring very welcome cost savings.
The range of opening covers within our discussion group is from 1,000 kg/ha to almost 1,500 kg/ha. This grass is exceptionally good quality because it is still growing actively and has not endured any lodging due to heavy rain or waterlogging which would trigger decay in the sward.
Our wedge is showing a very solid graph ranging from a highest cover of 1,800 kg/ha to a low of 700 kg/ha. Larry, our contractor, spread slurry on 15pc of the milking platform in late January with the umbilical trailing shoe.
We will spread 25 units of urea this week and also intend to spread 10 units of phosphorous with sulphur, which should keep the farm growing over the next few weeks.
While our opening farm cover is exceptional - and we might think we are due a good spring, there can be no complacency.
Too often in recent years, good positions in early spring, remember 2013 and 2018, turned very difficult later due to severe weather from the east. This year, as always, we intend to make full use of the spring rotation planner which we run on our farm from February 8 to April 8.
We will be proactive as we go through the next 60 days to ensure we have as much grass as possible in the cows diet everyday, weather permitting, but also to ensure we don't run out of grass in early April.
For us, similar to most February calving herds, the challenge is to graze the 30pc required in the spring rotation planner during February to give the grass enough time to regrow sufficiently for the second rotation.
The other challenge is to make the last 40pc stretch from March 20 to the beginning of the second rotation.
Early April has often become a flashpoint over recent years due to poor weather and higher stocking rates on the milking platform.
We manage this period by grazing our lightest covers in February as they will recover faster - and by saving our highest covers until late March which slows down the herd and allows us to ration the grass as required to stretch the first rotation.
We think it is critical not to run out of grass as it has a massive negative impact on protein percentage if too much silage has to be fed in April.
Calf rearing is once again a focus area for us this year, having endured a difficult spring in 2018 due to rotavirus.
We vaccinated all the cows (no first-calf heifers) calving before March 17 and will feed their colostrum to all the newborn calves.
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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