Farm Ireland

Sunday 24 June 2018

Why alarm bells have started ringing on grazing conditions for this farmer

Albert Raid from Seaforde, Co Down at the Knockbridge Co Louth vintage show on Sunday. Photo: David Conachy

Mary Kinston

After a relatively dry first six months of the year, we have now had two months where rainfall has exceeded 100ml per month on our farm in Kerry.

In my experience, rainfall in excess of 100ml is the alarm bell warning of troublesome grazing conditions.

In heavier ground this is certainly the case, although this type of ground held up well until recently. Grass growth has continued to forge ahead so building covers as we head into the autumn hasn't been a problem. Hitting the target rotation of 30 days by September 1 has happened with relative ease.

However, achieving good residuals hasn't been so easy, with cows exhibiting some discontentment in this wet weather.

Supporting yields with one to two kgs of meal has been employed on many a unit.

Is this feed effective? In my experience certainly during prolonged periods of wet weather it can benefit the cows as they struggle to consume adequate amounts of grass dry matter.

As we continue to head into a period of extending the grazing rotation, feed can also be effective in aiding the increase in average farm cover or cover per cow required to extend the rotation. As we proceed through September the rotation needs to extend further, targeting 35 days by mid-September and 40 days by October 1. During this time average covers should rise to in excess of 1000kg/ha to facilitate extending the grazing season well into November.

However where the farm is deemed heavy soil type combined with high rainfall using a final grazing rotation of 35 days will see the farm close up by the start of November.

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This may be more appropriate for wet farms depending on how the autumn weather plays out.

Poaching ground in autumn needs to be avoided where possible as the impact of autumn poaching is always seen in the following spring.

When considering the cows, for spring calving herds early September is an ideal time to scan and see what's in-calf for next year. Talking to farmers it seems there is a mixed bag of results.

Cows have milked exceptionally well this year, holding peak yields for what seemed six weeks to two months this spring on certain farms.

Past research has proven milk yield to be inversely related to fertility so potentially this has had some part to play, but as with all biological systems one person's results may have a multitude of influences quite different to the next.

If you are concerned about your results a few questions can identify where the slippage has been:

What was your three-week submission rate to AI?

  • What percentage of the non-cyclers were late calvers (April onwards)?
  • What was the non-return rate of the herd at six weeks (percentage of cows submitted in week 1-3 NOT returning to service) or if you've scanning data, your conception rate being percentage AI'd in week 1-3 scanned in-calf
  • Did you have adequate bull power on farm and were the bulls working effectively?
  • How long did you mate for? Having assessed your scanning results, ask yourself:
  • Does the number of cows and heifers scanned in-calf satisfy the number of cows minus wastage that you hope to milk in 2018?
  • What are your plans for empty and surplus cows?

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

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