Mary Kinston: Maintaining grass quality is a challenge on farms

Mary Kinston

I'm sure there were many sighs of relief as the rain fell in decent amounts across the country and any fear of a drought diminished.

It was no surprise that grass rebounded out of the ground and recurring grass surpluses have been the new order.

This change in weather did see, however. a small bit of discontent in the cows as they had to adapt to significant changes in grass dry matter, grass quality and I speculate a degree of a flux in nitrogen uptake making the grass somewhat bitter as grass rejection was seen in places with rising residuals.

As is normal for this time of year, grass is trying to head out all over the place, and maintaining grass quality is the current challenge for grassland management.

It's no surprise when you consider the heading dates of most intermediate to late heading varieties to vary from around 20 May to 11 June. Luckily, excellent growth rates do pose a great opportunity to re-establish quality through the cutting of surpluses for silage.

However, this may also need to be complemented with pre-mowing or topping considering your stocking rate. My ideal is to try and cut the farm once only which requires staggered cutting throughout June and July over three grazing rotations - weather allowing.

Paddocks that aren't too bad for heading out/quality should be targeted later as having the whole farm cut within one rotation is likely to see a boom to bust scenario.

Aftermath grazing is always soft and results in cows racing through dry matter, again sometimes with some degree of discontent. Preferably, we should make gradual and staged changes on the cow's diet, where possible, so accept a degree of unsightly covers for a wee while.

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Another mob of cattle that depend the maintenance of grass quality are this year's calves, although, in reality, this is often easier said than done.

Grazing of leafy covers of around a 1000kgDM/ha are ideal, but the fact that they taint the grass upon grazing makes this integration into the dairy cow grazing somewhat of a nightmare where cutting seems the only solution once the calves are moved on.

The only other alternative here is a practice of moving them forward after no more than 1 week. Again, while ideal it's integration into the working week and the grazing season is tricky and in certain circumstances lacks practicality.

Having accepted the role of the main calf rearer at home I'm starting to find that I fret about the calves once they go to grass. In some ways I've found this bizarre as historically having suffered with rotovirus, crypto, coccidiosis to name a few in the pre-weaning phase, I feel the post-weaning phase should be easy in comparison.

Most of these pre-weaning issues have been resolved by a mix of colostrum management, vaccination and improved hygiene. And also by a determination to act quickly on anything that shows even the slightest sign of ill-health.

Better control of the pre-weaning complaints has allowed me to focus on getting calves up to weaning weight as fast as possible.

Transition

However, I now get extremely frustrated if anything takes a set-back post weaning as in my eyes the hard yards are done. And while the numbers affected are low, one seems one too many once the effort of rearing is considered.

Thankfully, recent conversations have made me realise that I'm not the only one. Getting a successful the transition from milk to meal and from meal to grass is an art-form in itself.

This also needs to be combined with the timely management of the potential impacts of worms, coccidiosis and BRD (Bovine Respiratory Disease) issues.

Options for clean grazing should be given serious consideration to complement the management of such issues and reduce our reliance on control products.

Diagnostic tools are also important when trying to develop protocols to manage these issues on an annual basis. However, when faced with a sick calf, or a calf going backwards, often diagnostics get thrown aside.

Unfortunately, everything but the kitchen sink is then invariablyused to get on top of the issue for the individual or group as soon as possible.

As ever, there's still much to learn and do better, yet a relief to know this is an issue for more than just me.

Indo Farming


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