Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 February 2018

Poor grass growth means there is real danger of underfeeding cows

John Donworth

Well, the green shoots have begun to appear at long last. I am not talking about our economy, but about our grassland.

Last week, and over the weekend, there was a definite stir in the grassland plant. It's getting up a head of steam and any paddocks that have been well cleaned out will reap the benefits. The plant will start to grow quickly and in 10 to 12 days time the farm will look a whole lot different.

Growth rates last week were approaching 20kg per day and, while that's nothing to write home about, from where we've come that's progress.

A number of farmers have commented on my statement that all nitrogen spread six weeks ago is now gone. Six weeks ago would bring you back to the first week of February. Was I right to make such a statement?

Nitrogen generally has a six-week turnaround time. If it doesn't grow grass in that period then it never will. Farmers who didn't agree with the statement said we didn't get any rain to wash it through the soil profile. Neither had we saturated ground conditions, which could lead to denitrification -- nitrogen going up into the atmosphere.

The only way you will really find out is to carry out your own little experiment. Don't spread nitrogen for the next three weeks and see how you get on. By the way, I would not advise that course of action.

If you haven't already done so after St Patrick's Day, I would be out with at least 40 units of nitrogen this week, maybe even a bag of urea, depending on the stocking rate. We need every blade of grass to grow for the next month.

How many of you will be grazing the silage ground a second time? It looks likely that the second rotation shouldn't end until April 10 at the earliest. Some silage ground, maybe even 20pc of it, may need to be grazed in the second rotation, otherwise grass covers in the second round may not be at the required level. Time and growth will tell.

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As well as questioning my advice about nitrogen, I am also being taken to task about my advice about feeding cows this spring. Some of you think I am gone soft in the head, and that I have shares in a number of mills or have got a blow to the head along the way.

My advice about feeding cows this spring is coloured by what I see in front of me at farm level: the worst grass quality I have ever seen in all my working life, all stock, bar milking cows, inside and silage stocks depleting by the day. Milk yields, compared to the same week last year, are well back, and as for milk protein per cent, one is working very hard to keep it about 3.10pc. Silage is still part of the cows' diet, as I write, and that's a sad state of affairs.

Silage is a poor feed for milking cows, and I would question even high-quality bales here. One can do some complicated figures based on the amount of grams of protein a cow needs to perform to the best of her ability, and I am afraid most of the data would suggest we are in danger of underfeeding our cows this spring.

If grass growth returns to normal levels quickly then we will correct that deficiency. Current milk price is 25-26c/l. It doesn't leave much room for profit, with ration costing €210/t for an 18pc protein ration.

Generally, when one talks about a feed -- grass, concentrates or silage -- one talks about its crude protein content. In reality, it's a crude enough measure. The quality of the protein is also important, and by quality we mean its PDIE value. Don't ask me to explain that, except a cow needs a certain amount of it if she is to perform efficiently.

For example, a herd producing 28l with a protein content of 3.20pc needs, according to the book, 1,750g of PDIE protein.

If you are still with me, each kilogramme of silage (70 dmd) will give you 69g of PDIE, and each kilogramme of grass will give you 103g of PDIE. A kilogramme of citrus will give you 91g of PDIE, whereas a kilogramme of barley will give you 103g of PDIE.

Ration and grass are not too far apart when it comes to talking about grams of PDIE protein. Soya bean is the exception here. Silage is way back and indeed the figures for maize aren't much better.

What's the message here? If silage is still in the diet and your milk protein levels are on the floor, have a look at your concentrate intake. I am assuming, of course, you have good genetics bred into your cows for milk protein.

Dates for the diary

Tomorrow, two regional EBI walks take place. One of these is in Galway and the other one is in the Navan area. On Thursday, the regional EBI walk takes place in Cashel.

If you attend these events, they qualify as one event for the dairy efficiency discussion group programme. You must sign in to record your attendance.

  • Do you intend to apply for milk under the New Entrant Scheme for 2010? A training day will be held in Moorepark, next Tuesday, March 30. The objective of the day is to inform you about the scheme as well as to help you prepare a business plan, which is a requirement of the scheme.

Irish Independent