Farm Ireland

Sunday 22 April 2018

Making the most of a badly needed dry spell

Michael Doehrty and Killian Bonner at the Raphoe Livestock Mart Weanling Show and Sale. Photo Clive Wasson
Michael Doehrty and Killian Bonner at the Raphoe Livestock Mart Weanling Show and Sale. Photo Clive Wasson
Henry Walsh

Henry Walsh

The long awaited dry spell has finally arrived. Ground conditions have been very difficult with herds housed by night on many farms recently in an effort to protect the land and mind the cows.

Many soils are waterlogged, so hopefully this dry spell will allow these herds to stay out to graze off the high grass covers and set up the farms for the spring.

It may even have come in time to allow slurry spreading before the deadline for the closed period from October 15 here in Galway.

For many farms this may involve an umbilical system to minimise the impact on the ground. We hope to have all tanks empty and it will be spread after the cows graze for the next week.

One sector the weather has affected more than anyone else is the tillage farmer,

This is a very talented committed group operating in a region with naturally higher rainfall but this harvest has been horrendous for them. Higher than normal rainfall led to poor ground conditions and very few good drying days for the grain.

When this is combined with low grain prices it puts the entire industry under financial duress, particularly in the west, as we have seen in some recent reports.

We can't influence the weather but we can use more locally produced grain to feed our cows and in my experience straight rolled barley is the cheapest and best feed to compliment soft lush high protein autumn grass.

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Cows are milking 14.6 litres at 5.2 fat and 4.1 protein giving 1.4kg/ms/day on 2kg of meal. Growth rates are now dropping and farm cover has fallen in the last week to 842kg/dm/ha.

We have started feeding 4kg/dm/day of good quality bale silage in the last few days to stretch the grass.

Already we notice the cows are more content probably due to 'gut fill' and higher dry matters. Aurivo tested a sample of grass for us and it came back at a very low 11.7pc DM.

The cows must be working very hard to physically consume enough grass at this low dry matter. We also noticed on a lot of days over the last month the cows drank no water from the tanks in the paddocks. With a dry week the grass dm should recover to more normal levels.

The last three weeks have been very busy with the milking herd and replacement heifers scanned, vaccinated for salmonella and body condition scored.

The in-calf heifers and this years calves were also weighed and treated with a pour on. This information is vital to assist our decision making over the next few months.

The first key figure we look at is empty rate at 11pc in the cows after 12 weeks breeding and 5pc in the heifers after 10 weeks breeding, with 90pc of the heifers calving in the first month.

The cow figure is higher than our target of 10pc. This is a significant cost and we will strive to work on the areas that help us reduce our empty rate such as BCS, nutrition, minerals, vaccinations, lameness,etc.

After that the calving figures are very good. There is a massive 70pc of the herd calving in the first three weeks which means we require a high opening grass cover.

To ensure this we started the last rotation on October 1 and will graze and close 70pc of the milking platform by November 1. We have set up the Autumn Rotation Planner and intend to follow it.

Due to our planned stocking rate of 3.5 cows/ha for the 2017 grazing season we will also need a supply of this year's grass bales to be held over for the spring. We also need to ensure there is enough labour available in spring and that calf housing is sufficient and effective.

There is not enough housing on the farm for the cows so all empty cows have been separated and housed on full silage plus 3kg nuts.

They are milked once a day and will be sold in the next week. The BCS of the first lactation heifers at 3.0 was good with four dried off now. The remainder will be dried in the next two weeks and moved to the out farm.

In total 11 milking cows or 4pc were under pressure with a BCS of 2.5 and dried for the winter. All cows will be treated with a 42-day antibiotic plus a teat sealer.

We have not teat sealed in calf heifers to date but I am considering it as one of the most frustrating things in dairying is to calf down a heifer with milk in only three teats or a light quarter. All in calf heifers are in good condition and on target so no meal feeding will be required.

The calves however are a different story with an average weight of 188kg which is too light.

They have not been fed meal this autumn but this will now change. Around 20pc of them are 175kg or lighter, so they have been separated and housed for convenience on high quality bale silage plus 2kg of an 18pc nut.

We will continue to monitor their weights because research has shown us that well grown heifers at the correct weight going to the bull is the cornerstone of a successful breeding policy and sets up the cow to stay in the herd for a decent number of lactations.

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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