Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Sunday 19 November 2017

Mary Kinston: Protection key in dry summer

Mary Kinston

Having moved to Ireland in August 2007, this is the first time that I have had to seriously consider the management techniques that should be in play when dealing with dry summer conditions across the country.

If my memory serves me correctly, 2008 was a wettish year, 2009 was seriously wet, 2010 and 2011 were good, even if they lacked the sunshine. The year 2011 became very wet in September, and then it was all capped off by a 2012 that was terribly wet.

Apparently, the last dry summer was seven years ago in 2006.

While some farms burn up long before others, the persistent high pressure over the country at the moment has the potential to have a negative impact on milk supplies nationally.

The first priority when dealing with dry summer conditions is to protect next year's production and reproduction. This includes both cow condition score targets and providing adequate winter feed supplies.

The second priority is to maximise milk production for the rest of the year.

The duration of this weather will determine what decisions will be needed, big or small, to achieve these ends.

The last few months have seen farmers avail of every opportunity to provide winter feed, after completely depleting supplies in 2012 and during the spring of this year.

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If dry conditions persist, cows will need increased levels of supplementation as grass growth declines.

Although hard on feed bills, and hard to swallow with cows having already been fed greater than 500kg per cow by a large number of farmers, meal or concentrates will be the first option.

Meal alone can be fed up to 5kg and potentially 7kg before forage is introduced.

Position

Your financial position in terms of income after expenses, cash flow and merchant credit, will need to be considered to gauge how much meal you can feed during a dry summer.

But consider all your other options to reduce feed demand before relying solely on purchased feed to fill the gap, especially if you are under pressure for winter feed. The use of winter feed reserves should be a last resort.

For example, remove all culls from the farm as soon as possible.

There's also the option of milking once a day where quota is a possible concern.

Only consider full herd once-a-day milking where your bulk SCC is less than 200,000, as this will definitely double in the first three-four days.

If dry conditions are prolonged and continue throughout July and August, scanning to determine what cows are in-calf, culling empties and drying off cows with high SCCs, low body conditions and first and second lactation cows are all worthwhile options.

Remember in a dry summer situation that the biggest response to supplement and fertiliser is after the rain comes.

This is because there is pasture decay and it takes a while for pastures to recover and grass growth to increase.

Water intakes and water systems must also be given a bit of thought in dry conditions, especially where you are feeding high levels of concentrate.

If your system is under pressure, then provide water in the yards after milking to reduce the demand on the troughs in the paddock.

For those farms that have yet to feel the pinch of the dry conditions on grass growth, applying nitrogen, in CAN form rather than urea, will help promote vegetative tiller growth.

It does this by switching the perennial ryegrass plant from producing seed heads to high quality leaf, but it needs to happen before the soil moisture becomes limiting.

It's also a wise move to extend the rotation length to 26-30 days.

While some paddocks may be unsightly with seed heads and stemmy pasture, resist the urge in this rotation to top or pre-mow prior to grazing as this will hinder grass growth and recovery until rain has fallen.

Stress

For those farms that are dry and showing signs of moisture stress, don't apply nitrogen (N) until a decent amount of rain has been received. Apply 30-40 units of N per acre in this situation.

Finally, while the prolonged dry conditions may be hard to bear due to their impact on feed supply, they are working wonders on soil structure.

Wet holes have finally dried up and cracks are signs that Mother Nature is helping the soil do its own drainage work.

However, it's now a good time to help it along by implementing a deep or shallow drainage system where required.

Mary Kinston is a discussion group facilitator and consultant, and farms with her husband in Co Kerry. Email: mary.kinston@gmail.com

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