Henry Walsh: We are in new territory with this year's grass growth

Henry Walsh

Henry Walsh

February was a wonderful month to be farming. Warm days and pleasant nights resulted in near-perfect conditions for growth, grazing and outdoor calving on the pad.

Over 60pc of the herd calved in the first three weeks and now at the end of week four, we have 70pc, with 90pc of the first calvers milking.

This sets us up well on a number of fronts with the bulk of the herd settled into milk mode by St Patrick's Day, the first calvers have adequate time to settle before breeding and we have exceeded our requirements for replacement heifer calves.

While grazing conditions deteriorated sharply in March, the underlying ground is solid having been well drained by both the drought earlier and worm activity over the dry, mild winter. I expect growth to continue and the underfoot conditions to recover better than usual for this time of year.

Grass growth in February continued this year's trend of exceeding 10-year averages and has resulted in our average farm cover actually increasing to 1,218kg/dm/ha during February.

We have never seen this kind of cover before, even though all the milking herd were out on grass full time, no silage and 3kg of meal.

This is new territory for us, and properly managed, will ensure the cows can be fully fed cheaper than in other years and the milk will flow.

It is a similar picture to most of the others in our group so we had a discussion on how best to utilise the feed available to us all.

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We set a date of April 5 to finish the first rotation this year, which is a little earlier than the last few years, but we agreed that recovery after the first grazing is quicker than normal with most people having got 2,000gal/ha of slurry applied in good conditions and regrowths already over 500.

We set 530kg/dm/ha as the cover we want to start the second rotation with. Now the calculator gets to work. Over the 30 days from March 6 to April 5, we will reduce farm cover from our existing figure of 1,218 down to our target 530. This gives us 23kg/dm/ha of grass reserve available every day, and when we add our projected average growth rate for the next 30 days of 17kg/dm/day, it means we can set our demand at 40kg/day until April 5.

In practice this means we can stock the farm at three cows/ha on average over the next month and fully feed the cows with 13kg of grass and 3kg of concentrates.

We are starting to graze our highest covers which are over 2,200 and in better shape than I have ever seen grass at this time of year considering it is growing almost five months since October. These high covers also bring the added benefit of satisfying the cow as she will easily achieve gut fill by having a full mouth from every bite.

Calf rearing is currently going well with the weather having been very kind, and perhaps due to the Rotavirus vaccine bringing benefits.

Bull calves

Selling bull calves is a real challenge for everyone I spoke to this year as the export trade is slower than promised or hoped for, and between Brexit and beef prices, it is easy to understand how farmer buyers are cautious.

This is another very real challenge that needs to be worked on to see if a solution can be found as it will be a serious obstacle to growth.

We have one group of heifer calves in an open shed on the 40-teat quad feeder and they will go to grass at the first opportunity. They are on 600g of milk powder, nibbling muesli, treated for blackleg and debudded.

Two discussions happening in the public arena with outcomes due in the next two weeks that will have a massive impact on the Irish farming landscape going forward are Brexit and the conclusion of the all-party Committee on Climate Action. This group, chaired by Hildegarde Naughton TD, is due to report shortly. Agriculture is in the firing line on this subject, but we need balanced and fair discussion around the issues and it is important that farming is recognised as being part of the solution.

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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