Mary Kinston: Milk fat and protein at levels not seen for many years

Stock Image.
Stock Image.

Mary Kinston

The grazing season started with heavy covers and a fabulous February got cows to grass, putting many farmers on the path towards grazing between 20-30pc of their farms.

Many took these conditions as a opportunity to graze even more, with 40pc grazed being common enough.

Depending on your region and the nature of the soil type, a lot of farmers managed to keep cows to grass, especially for day grazings despite the deterioration in the weather during March.

If you were able to forge ahead, the high grass cover accumulated over the winter offered a great opportunity to increase milk volumes while holding milk fat and protein at levels not seen for many years.

However, the heavy rain in early March did see numerous herds having to return to the shed on full-time silage.

I know the frustrations of having the grass in the paddock and cows inside only too well, but St Patrick's Day came and the handbrake again was released. We are now seeing massive regional differences in the grazing situation.

Numerous farms have grazed between 70-85pc of the available pastures with average covers falling to as low as 600-700kgDM/ha.

Others impacted by wet soil conditions have failed to progress much above 30pc grazed and average farm cover remains at greater than 1000kgDM/ha. In either situation, the key is not to panic.

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If you have managed to keep grazing then your main focus must be to keep going and avoid putting silage in if at all possible. Average farm cover dropping substantially to 600-700kgDM/ha should not be a concern.

It's only if average farm cover drops to less than 500kgDM/ha that I would seriously consider giving silage.

Measure the paddocks grazed first and as long as you have at least 850kgDM/ha or more on the first few paddocks grazed in February, you are heading comfortably into the second round and have set the farm up perfectly for quality pasture.

It's funny how we have to reset the clock every year and we have to remind ourselves that this year has been far from normal.

I've seen numerous farms start spring with less than 700kgDM/ha in previous years and stay grazing.

A declining average cover towards 500-550kgDM/ha is actually the aim for stocking rates of around 3-3.2cows/ha at the start of the second round.

However, if like us you housed cows and have only recently got cows back grazing again, don't panic.

I actually can't see too many down sides to too much pasture in early spring as long as you are measuring the farm regularly and get cows to grass as much as you can.

We can still set up for quality pasture but our approach may have to be adjusted.

First and foremost, cows need grass from mid-March, so if you haven't let them out, get them out and opt for on and off grazing if necessary.

Open the cows up to grazing as much as you can within reason to increase your demand and consider putting other stock out, especially maiden heifers.

For the cows, reduce the meal fairly rapidly over two to three days to less than 3kg/day and balance the area on offer daily with the residuals being achieved.

If conditions are marginal on your wetter paddocks, accept a slightly higher residual.

The second round can still favour good residuals and paddock clean-out.

But make a mental note of where they are poor and need tightening up next time. Most importantly, manage your area.

If silage ground is incorporated in your available grazing area, then leave it till the end to graze.

If needed, you'll graze it, but if grass growth continues to be favourable, shut it up, fertilise and take an early first cut.

The potential losses in quality by not grazing it once will be made up for by cutting it early (mid-late May). If silage ground isn't included in your milking platform then you may have to start your second rotation before finishing your first.

This will need you to regularly assess your re-growths and once 1200kgDM/ha is reached, graze them again. Ungrazed covers from the first rotation will either support any unexpected deficits as we transition through April towards May or will be cut for bales.

However, be pragmatic and remember that grass growth will never be as favourable when holding a heavy average farm cover >800kgDM/ha than a growthy 700-500kgDM/ha, which may mean your second round will be between two to six days later than you might have expected.

Mary Kinston is a discussion group facilitator and consultant, and farms with her husband in County Kerry

Indo Farming

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