Farm Ireland

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Holding grass as long as possible is vital first step

John Maher

Lack of rain means that dry farms around the country are about to enter into or are already in, a period of much lower grass growth rates.

According to Met Eireann, there is very little likelihood of rain falling over the next week and if long-range forecasts are to be believed, there will be no rain before August 1.

Prior to the weekend, the soil moisture deficit in dry areas was already at two inches of rain (50mm) and the rest of the country is about one inch (25mm).

Highly stocked dairy farms are particularly vulnerable to reduced grass growth and acquiring enough winter feed is a priority for many of these farms.

The fodder census (July 1) suggested that 66pc of farms expect to be short of silage next winter.


The two major milk processors, Glanbia and Dairygold, will be on quota within the month and Kerry is catching up on milk quota quickly as a result of the weather.

This potential milk quota problem is largely due to the extra 100,000 cows calved this year. Many of these extra cows are on the drier farms that are most likely running over quota already.

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Therefore, before we talk about feed or grass management during a drought phase, the issue of disposing of surplus stock (cows especially) should be addressed.

Tackling any feed deficit – due to dry or wet weather problems – requires a multi-pronged approach, in which reducing animal demand has a major role to play.

There are four stages to the period of drought management:

Stage 1:Initial period of reduced grass growth;

Stage 2:Holding rotation during drought with low grass growth;

Stage 3:Period of prolonged drought with no grass growth;

Stage 4:Recovery phase of growth after rain has fallen when recovery is not as fast as you expect.

Today, I am writing about Stage 1 only. The objective here is to hold grass supply on the farm. It is also the period of denial with farmers.

Growth rates are already falling on many farms. For example, the daily growth rate last week on the Greenfield farm was 13kg drymatter (DM) per hectare and Curtins farm fell 20kg to 45kg DM/ha/day.

It is essential to try to hold grass supply as far as possible on farm now because:

* Grass grows grass (low covers grow less);

* Any dew/moisture is trapped better by higher covers;

* Grazed out/topped fields burn up/dry out much quicker;

* Higher covers facilitate fertiliser application and uptake.

To illustrate the point, many farmers will aim to hold a 21-day rotation.

However, grass supply will deplete faster.

To grow the magic 1,400kg of grass will require a growth of about 70kg DM/ha/day over 20 days.

If this growth is halved, there will only be 700kg of a pre-grazing cover available in about 20 days.

It is important to act now to minimise the effect of reduced grass growth before a major drought becomes a reality.

Giving cows additional feed now will greatly help to keep the rotation longer and keep more feed on the farm.

Irish Independent