Farm Ireland

Thursday 23 November 2017

Preparation to avoid the winter chill begins now


Gerard Sherlock

Gerard Sherlock

Many see September 1 in a similar light to January 1. We look back over the summer and evaluate how productive it was and now look to the autumn and winter with new ideas or new things to do. In autumn, nature is preparing for the winter: plant life slows up, wildlife collect food or migrate. In winter, growth ceases and many wildlife hibernate. If only all farmers could do the same.

Even though it is almost the middle of September, grass growth hasn't slowed up much yet. Grass growth figures for the first week of this month were 75kg/ha/day in Ballyhaise compared with 32kg down south. This tremendous grass growth is helping me to build up the autumn covers.

Autumn grazing is as challenging as spring grazing, if not more so. If cows are offered silage, they tend to eat it quicker than the grass as it is new in their diet. The opposite is true in the spring. Cows seem to get lazier in the autumn, slower to go out after milking, especially in the evenings.

It is probably a good idea to milk earlier in the evenings from now on. Cows should have three hours grazing before dark. I have heard a lot of cows are loose with their dung, including my own. This is due to the wetter grass at this time of year. To counteract this, dry silage would help but this will also reduce grass intake.

I will try and hold off feeding round bales until next month. Talking about silage, I must get mine tested soon and also do the calculation on the quantity of feed for the winter. I made my last round bales on September 1. That's the hope anyway.

A paddock was taken out and yielded 21 bales of good, dry material. There seems to be fields of silage to be made everywhere even now. I found in the past, silage was very difficult to make from September on as it was almost impossible to get it dry. I made round bales one year and when I went back to feed them, they had shrunk and lost their shape so much they were almost impossible to lift.

With good grass and 2kg of a 16pc protein ration, the cows are producing 19 litres at 3.77pc butterfat and 3.47pc protein. This results in 1.4kg MS/cow/day.

We have plenty of scope to produce lots of cheap milk for the next 6-8 weeks, provided we plan our autumn grass and keep an eye on our milk quota and cow condition. I'm putting a lot of focus on cow condition now in order to hit my target BCS at drying off, which will begin during the first week of November.

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I haven't spread any fertiliser since August 16. I may spread another 18 units of nitrogen/ac this week if weather allows. I have access to 27.5ha for the milking platform, giving a stocking rate of 2.1 cows/ha.

An extra bit came in after the second cut. It means walking the cows on the main road. Thankfully, there have been no accidents or wing-mirror losses yet! I plan to begin closing paddocks on October 10.

The cows and all in-calf heifers were given the salmonella vaccine on September 2. I'll give the first-timers a second vaccine three weeks later. I do this because I had an outbreak many years ago and like all vaccines, once you start you can't stop them. I dosed the in-calf heifers for fluke and worms with Endospec.

It may help with the loose dung. I am planning to weigh my in-calf heifers this week. This should be interesting as I got them weighed back in April.

As I mentioned earlier, now is the time to prepare for the winter. What have I done so that things won't be as difficult in the frost and snow like last year? I look around the yard and still see a water pipe not fully covered and I still haven't bought any extra heaters for the dairy. There are many more.

None of us want to go through the same torture as we went through during the Christmas week last year. I know we can't eliminate all the problems but we should pick on a few. Even if it's only to have a spare large drinker or a handy container to draw water in.

We enjoyed our holiday to London at the end of last month. The only animals I saw for the week were a beautiful herd of Jersey cows and a field of Guernsey bulls in Windsor. No prizes for guessing who they belong to.

Gerard Sherlock is a dairy farmer from Tydavnet, Co Monaghan. Email:

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