Prospects of returning yearling heifers to grass diminishing by the day as bad weather goes on

Denis Minogue

Harsh weather conditions have continued to plague Derrypatrick over the past few months. Due to poor grass supply and unsuitable ground conditions, the replacement and yearling heifers were housed for the second time.

They have remained indoors for four weeks to allow grass supply to increase.

While indoors, they were all offered round-bale silage that was removed from pasture earlier in the year. In addition, the yearling heifers were offered 2kg concentrate/head/day.

The average weight of the yearling heifers on August 8 was 480kg. This is on a par with last year's progeny, even though these yearlings had been housed on two occasions.

The prospect of returning the yearling heifers back to grass is diminishing day by day.

Currently, we only have 99 cows and calves at grass. The average grass growth rate for the past three weeks has been estimated at 27kg DM/ha/day, which was not enough to sustain all three groups of animals (cows, heifers and replacements).

At present, the grass growth rate is estimated at 42kg DM/ha/day. This increase in grass growth was a welcome development and diminished our need to graze silage ground in an effort to meet the daily feed requirement of our cows.

Cow and calf performance for 2012 is outlined in table 1 (right). In terms of mature liveweight, there is a notable difference between Limousin x Friesian and Charolais x cows.

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Upon examining body condition score, we can also see a visible difference between the four cow breed types.

The Limousin x Friesian has a lower body condition score (2.71) than her continental counterparts; however, we must not forget that she is working harder, which is reflected in the calf performance.

We can clearly see a notable difference in average daily gain of 0.25 kg/day between the Limousin x Friesian and the Charolais x Limousin.

This could equate to a difference of 62kg in liveweight at weaning across our entire grazing season.

This is an indication that the maternal element of the cow, irrespective of breed, is a key component in driving output on suckler farms.

Grazing conditions have improved for the short term but we are expecting the weather to be quite changeable over the next few weeks.

There was a stage in the year when, like a lot of farmers, we struggled to find dry areas of the farm to allocate to stock. The brief drying period in the early part of August was welcomed. However, more sunlight is required for ground conditions to improve.

If we fail to build up pasture covers, we then run the risk of a short autumn for the herd and, in turn, a long winter.

We planned to reseed a number of paddocks this year. However, we will not get the opportunity to do so now. In the early part of the year, our reseeds showed much higheryields when compared to some of the old permanent pastures.

Their current condition is far from ideal. At present, we are trying to bring some life back into our reseeded areas with fertilisation and careful grazing management.

To date, we have grazed approximately 50pc of our total silage area. The response of silage area to fertilisation in June was extremely poor.

Pasture covers ranged from only 2,500-3,200kg DM/ha. We had aimed for at least 5,000kg DM/ha for this period.

Silage was due to be harvested on August 5. But, a combination of poor pasture covers and ground conditions put paid to these plans.

In addition, water still remains on the surface of a number of paddocks on grazing and silage areas.

The soil surrounding the Derrypatrick herd has a high clay content, which is difficult for rainwater to infiltrate.

The moisture capacity of this soil type is limited to 1-2mm of rainfall daily. Exposure to rainfall in excess of 1-2mm can result in pasture damage and heavy poaching. Despite these obstacles, we have survived the wettest June and July on record.

This year will undoubtedly result in us having to purchase feed in order to sustain the herd for the winter.

In spite of all the negative aspects, our bulls are performing exceptionally well indoors.

They have been housed since May 14, again due to poor grass supply. The early housing of the bulls meant that we only achieved 50 days at grass instead of the targeted 100.

This early housing means that we will require an additional 400kg of concentrate/head in order to finish all of the bulls within the full 18-month system.

Since housing, average daily gain stands at an impressive 1.9kg /head/day.

The bulls are currently being offered 5kg (fresh-weight) of silage plus concentrates ad libitum. The concentrate being offered is a relatively simple mix comprising 87pc rolled barley, 6pc soya, 6pc molasses and 1pc minerals.

Concentrate intake to date is estimated to be at 12.5kg (fresh-weight) /head/day. If this performance is maintained for the duration of the finishing period, they will be on target for a liveweight of 680-690kg at slaughter (18 months of age).

Our plan is to slaughter 50pc of the bulls prior to the Derrypatrick open day on September 13, which is BTAP qualifying.

Staff at Grange Research Centre would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the recent and sudden passing of Pascal Reilly.

Pascal provided an outstanding service to the research programme at Grange for many years, and was highly valued as a colleague and friend.

He was a character who will be fondly remembered, not least for his good humour and quick wit.

Our sympathies go out to his family and friends. Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís.

Denis Minogue is in charge of the Derrypatrick herd at Teagasc, Grange, Co Meath. Email: denis.minogue@teagasc.ie

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