Farm Ireland

Saturday 16 December 2017

The big challenge now is keeping the cows grazing until December

Galway farmer Henry Walsh outlines how he's dealing with poor grass growth

It is important to keep the cows grazing
It is important to keep the cows grazing
Henry Walsh

Henry Walsh

I have just returned from a short unplanned trip to California due to a family bereavement. We were 200km east of Las Angeles and the locals told me it almost never rains there, just like the song says.

Temperatures ranged from 40C down to a pleasant 29C by day with all cars and buildings air conditioned.

Not too far away was the aptly named Death Valley which once recorded an unbelievable high of 53C.

Water was not restricted as we were sitting on an Aquifer, a lake beneath the land that was being replenished by rainfall on a local mountain range.

What a difference in climate to here in Ireland and I could easily understand that one of the factors which will restrict food production going forward will be water in places like that.

I can only guess how much water it would take to irrigate a crop in such hot conditions often accompanied by a drying wind.

It reminded me of an irrigation trial carried out a number of years ago on grassland in a drought.

There was 8mm of water applied in the evening time but there was 11mm of evaporation measured the following day. Would that earn you the title of being a busy fool?

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On the home front, cows are milking 13 litres at 5.52pc fat and 4.31pc protein on 2kg of nuts. Lactose is still fine at 4.60pc, with SCC averaging 180. Thermoduric bacteria are tested occasionally and are fluctuating between 50 and 90.

We have reduced the stocking rate to 2.7 cows/ha by drying off cows and selling all empty cows plus some culls.

The weather was dry during October and that gave us much improved ground conditions and ideal weather for grazing.

We have been getting an excellent clean out with very little marking on the ground. This also allowed us to spread the small amount of slurry left in the tanks as well as the parlour washings and the last of the farmyard manure.

Grass growth has been poor over the last few weeks only averaging 17kg/dm/day for the last seven days.

This is well down on last year and with the demand set at 40 kg/dm/day it has resulted in farm cover dropping rapidly to 650kg/dm/ha.

I suspect this may be a legacy of the wet August and September. We had 73pc of the farm grazed on November 1, a little higher than our target of 65pc but still manageable. This poses two challenges.

The first is that we will not have enough grass to feed the cows till our target dry off date on December 1.

We will make the grass stretch till that date by increasing the amount of high quality bale silage being fed to the milking cows to at least 5kg/dm daily.

Winter housing

On this farm it is very important to keep the cows grazing and milking till December 1 because we do not have enough winter housing and also we have noticed the out wintering pad holds up better if no cow goes on it until at least that date.

Also there will be big benefits in protein percentage leading to a higher milk price.

We will continue to monitor body condition score and dry any lame or thin cows.

The cows feet have improved with the dry weather having been very tender in September.

The second problem is that if we graze all 100pc of the farm we are certain to have a closing farm cover lower than our target of 550kg/dm/ha.

We will monitor this as we go and will consider skipping one or two of the lighter paddocks last grazed in September. We believe it is much more important to have a good opening cover in spring as the herd is calving compact.

To reduce demand on grass and winter housing we have sold all empty cows and also culled some three teaters and late April calvers.

A group of the in-calf heifers were sold so that next spring we will only calve the number of cows we want to milk next year.

There are now some cows and heifers on the winter blocks.

Covers here are also a bit low so John is taking advantage of the dry weather and supplementing with a bale.

This is working a treat with minimal ground damage but ensuring the heifers are well filled and content while still achieving a good clean out.

Henry and Patricia Walsh farm in Oranmore, Co Galway, along with their son, Enda, and neighbour and out-farm owner John Moran.

Indo Farming