Poor grass management could hit milk producers where it hurts
Strong growth rates have been recorded across the country over the past two weeks, with the Kerry Agribusiness monitor farms recording an average growth rate of 81kgs DM/Ha over this period.
However, growth rates of this magnitude bring their own challenges, and keeping grass quality right is a challenge at present.
The most effective way to stay on top of grass quality is to measure grass.
Those that do so swear by it, but a huge proportion of Irish farmers do not measure grass regularly, so how can these farmers control grass quality in the absence of accurate measurement.
For them, the key focus for the next few weeks has to be maintaining the correct pre-grazing yields and the only way to manage this is to walk the farm twice weekly and act fast on what you see.
A cow grazing a cover of 1300kgs DM/Ha is capable of milking 25-26 litres of milk off grass alone at present. The same cow will only produce 22 - 23l if she is grazing covers of 2,000. This is due to two reasons:
a higher proportion of leaf in the lower cover, meaning there is more energy. A cover of 1300 will have a UFL value 0.95 whereas the cover of 2000 will have a UFL value of 0.90. While this difference sounds small, it translates into approximately 2litres of a reduced milk output/cow;
the higher fibre percentage of the higher cover will cause the cows gut to fill quicker and thereby reduce cows intake causing a drop of another litre or so.
At present milk prices, this equates to a reduced income of approximately €1/cow or €100/day for a 100 cow herd.
Cows will generally hit peak yield about eight to 10 weeks after calving, so if the median calving date of a herd is March 1, then peak yield should occur in the first week of May and last for two to three weeks.
Yield then tends to drop by 10pc/ month (or 2.5pc/week). However, this year, cows seemed to peak earlier (in last few weeks of April) and held that peak for longer.
A drop in milk yield of 2.5pc/week at this time of year is perfectly natural.
The February calved cow has already produced half her annual milk volume and is now probably six weeks back in calf and she now needs to divert some energy away from producing milk and towards growing the unborn calf.
Listening to farmers on the ground, yields seem to be dropping faster than 2.5pc per week on many farms and these figures seems to be echoed by the Co-op delivery figures.
Both Dairygold and Kerry hit peak milk intake in the last week of May and both are reporting drops in milk intakes of around 3.5pc/week.
This drop is slightly higher than expected and could be due to a number of reasons.
Cows held their peak longer this year and this could be causing a slightly higher drop, or else, the surge in growth rates over the past fortnight, coupled with the natural heading date of grass (first week of June for most grazing swards) has decreased the quality of the grass ahead of cows.
Joe Kelleher is a Teagasc advisor based in Newcastlewest, Co Limerick
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