Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 March 2018

Teagasc issues advice for dairy farmers struck by grass and fodder shortage

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Grass and fodder shortages across the country have prompted Teagasc to issue advice to dairy farmers struggling to cope with the grass deficit.

Poor grass supply has hit dairy farms this spring, with below-normal grass growth rates and quicker grazing of paddocks.

"Some farmers have up to 50pc of their farms grazed at this stage, when the target is 30pc," said Teagasc expert John Maher.

"The next target is to have approximately 60pc grazed by St Patrick's Day, and it is important to stick to these targets.

"The remainder of the grazing area must be budgeted out from now until early April."

The expert advised that, depending on April growth rates, farmers should be flexible in closing the silage ground.

They should also aim to include grazed grass in the cows' diet every day and fill the gap with silage and/or meals.

Supplementation rates would depend on the quantity of grass being consumed, Teagasc nutrition expert Siobhan Kavanagh advised.

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Grass growth is expected to remain poor in the short term, until soil temperatures rise and normal spring growth resumes after the harsh winter. Late last week, the 10cm soil temperature varied from 1-3°C, which is 2-3°C below normal.

Experts claim a change in windflow from the polar north to the southwest is needed to get adequate temperatures for growth at this time of the year. In addition to the absence of growth, existing grass covers have gone back due to the severe frost.


"For cows eating only a small amount of grass daily (4-5kg DM grass) plus ad lib silage by night, supplementation rates should be 6kg," she advised.

"But if silage stocks are low, restrict silage to dry cows and feed them 3-4kg of meals and prioritise the silage for the milking cows."

"If you have no grass and limited silage, cows need their minimum roughage requirement of 25-30kg fresh weight. Feed 8-9kg of concentrates for 21-22 litres of milk."

The nutrition expert advised farmers to build up to full meal feeding slowly and feed three times a day, using straights like citrus pulp as a mid-day feed.

"If you have no grass and no silage you will need to buy silage to meet minimum roughage requirements," she said.

Where there is no silage available and cows are grazing full time (7-8kg DM grass), concentrate supplementation should be 7-8kg.

This will sustain 23-24 litres of milk but not be adequate feeding for peak milk yield.

"Where cows are grazing full time and eating 12-13kg DM grass, concentrate supplementation should be 3.5-4.5kg,."

Dr Kavanagh said her recommendations were based on cows peaking at up to 27-28 litres/day and, for higher yielding herds, the rates of supplementation should be increased by up to 2kg for every 4.5 litres of milk.

She warned that under- feeding of cows could lead to significant body condition loss, lower milk production and poor reproductive performance.

Irish Independent