Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Get cows outside overnight and cut silage from diet

John Donworth

Grass quality on dairy farms is in pretty poor shape. Never mind the fact that we have had no growth whatsoever, the quality of the material ahead of cows last week was moderate.

Material that was reseeded in the past few years is looking reasonably OK, but old perennial ryegrass swards are in very poor shape. Throw in the odd sward that hasn't been reseeded in the past 30 years and you come up with a very poor picture of grass quality.

Few farmers at last week's discussion group meetings had cows out day and night. Most were bringing cows in at 4pm, giving them silage when they came in, and again post-milking.

The cows were standing at the gate at 3pm and had decided themselves on the amount of material they were removing from the grazing paddock. Needless to add, when these cows went out again the following morning, their appetites were not nearly as good as they should be, and this fact alone is going to influence how they go about removing grass from paddocks and achieving the desired post-grazing heights.

I found dairy farmers very slow to let cows out at night during the hard frosts of last few weeks. Many made out it was too cold. While night temperatures were cold, the weather was dry; there was no rain and no biting wind. Cows would have been perfectly OK outside, save the odd cow that just had a hard calving.

So, what's the message here? If your farm has several acres of dubious grass ahead of the cows, take the silage away from them and let them out at night. I am saying this regardless of the farm percentage grazed.

Grazing conditions were super for cows last week. You won't get a better chance for cleaning out paddocks, and having silage in the diet is the single greatest impediment to achieving this.

Paddocks not cleaned out in the first round will become a problem very early in the year. OK, you could say they will be topped after the second grazing, but you have no guarantee that the weather will be suitable. And even if it was, you will be asking cows to eat a very mixed diet of green leaf still mixed with dead material in the second rotation.

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In the current grazing conditions, I would try to get through as much of the poor quality pasture as possible. These paddocks won't start to grow normally until the bulk of this dead or drying material is removed.

And what about milk production and protein yield while you are on this dubious grass diet?

As well as feeding the dubious grass, cows should get 6kg of ration a day. The problem here is we can only guess at the quality of the material on offer, so the advice would be to err on the cautious side. These cows will probably take in 9-10kg of grass dry matter in 24 hours. This leaves you with 5.5kg of concentrate dry matter coming from the concentrate.

Just a word of warning about the concentrate: have a look at the label. The ingredients are in descending order (the ingredient with the highest inclusion rate is at the top). Palm kernel should not appear in any dairy cow ration fed at the moment. I know price can be an issue but only buy quality feeds.

Milk protein went south in a serious way last week. Some farms are already under 3pc. Silage is doing us absolutely no favours here and, if at all possible, it should be removed from the diet.

What about nitrogen? It has been a very difficult year so far for nitrogen fertiliser. Any material that has been out six weeks is gone; it has grown very little grass. The nitrogen has moved below the roots of the grass plant and will not come back. Nitrogen that was spread three weeks ago still has some time left to show a return. A large number of you have no nitrogen out yet. This is a serious situation to be in. The forecast is for milder weather and you must act at this late stage.

I would be applying a bag of urea at this stage. This is regardless of whether you went six weeks ago or haven't gone yet. I would reduce this to 35 units on farms where nitrogen went out three weeks ago.

The grass plant badly needs a kick-start at this stage. I would do a blanket spread of the farm, only missing out on the areas where cows are going into in the next four or five days.

Irish Independent