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Managing grass to maximise usage essential

Maximising grass usage is a key plank of Jim Delahunty's farm management.

The aim on the Delahunty farm is to have good grass covers early in the year. With this in mind, the cows are housed in early November -- they were put in on November 8 last year -- and milked on for a month.

This year the plan was to have the first rotation from February 1 to April 8, with the last rotation from October 10 to November 5.

This spring the cows were initially out full-time on February 14 but with grass growth so slow they were housed again by night over the next month before going to grass full-time in the last week of March.

For Jim, the grazing policy is all about getting the cows' feed intake right. This is watched even more closely now since the increase in cow numbers.

After calving, cow intakes can be as low as 12kg dry matter (DM), but this increases to reach an average of 18kg DM while on grass.

Jim's grassland management and usage is exceptional and this has provided the platform for expanding cow numbers.

The farm is walked weekly to assess covers. Paddocks are grazed so tightly that a mower which Jim bought last year to clean the paddocks after the cows never saw service. Where paddocks get strong, excess pasture is taken out as baled silage.

Close to 60 units of nitrogen have been spread on the grazing ground so far this year, with 220 to 230 units the target for the year as a whole.

At the moment, grass cover is 791kg DM/ha or 223kg DM/cow. The cows are fed 2kg a day.

Meal intakes hit 800kg/cow last year but, ironically, this was due to the fine weather. Since Jim's farm is high and dry it has a tendency to burn and last June grass covers suffered badly.

He had to add extra meal and feed the cows on baled silage at night. At the time the cows were fed 6kg of meal, 6kg of baled silage and 6kg of grazed grass.


He aims to get meal intake down to 500kg/cow by increasing grass intakes. Last year the farm produced an average of 13.4t DM/ha and grass usage totalled 12t DM/ha (the national average is 7t DM/ha). This means that the usage rate was approximately 90pc of the grass grown last year. Jim points out that if he can increase grass utilised to 13t/ha, it would result in 30t DM being used across the milking platform which would reduce the feed bill by €6,000.

He missed out last year, but Jim usually reseeds a portion of the grazing platform with 50pc of it reseeded since 2006.

"The future for the likes of me is increasing grass utilisation and expanding milk production per hectare," Jim explains.

He is looking at new varieties and some proven grasses which are more vigorous. Mixes of varieties such as Aston Energy, Tyrella, Portstewart and Navan are being used this year.

Indo Farming