Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 October 2017

The worst May for growth in many a year

Gerald Sherlock

As I wrote four weeks ago, I was looking forward to the month of May for better weather and to enjoy the comfort of animals grazing to their hearts content.

However, May was very challenging in many aspects and then the milk-price drop really brought home how vulnerable we dairy farmers are to the weather and the world markets.

Cows have been outdoors full-time from last weekend. Once the warmer nights came you could sense they wanted out and thankfully grass growth has picked up in the past few days.

But that doesn't take from the fact that May grass growth was the poorest I have seen for many years. The only way to grow grass was to make the rotation longer and not to forget to fertilise. The practise of little and often was the key. My rotation length was around 36 days. The cows were going into covers of around 1,100kgDM/ha. After each grazing I am spreading 27 units of urea/acre.

The greatest benefit of discussion groups is that you see and feel you are not alone with a problem. At our last meeting those present were experiencing the same issues: cows in at night, breeding-cow difficulties, uncertainty as to whether fertiliser was working, poor silage quantity and the extra labour involved.

Our Teagasc facilitator showed us an interesting cost. The cost of keeping cows indoors at night is €3.28/hd. The cost for cows outdoors fulltime is €2.06/hd. The difference is €1.22/hd. Add to this the 3c/l reduction in milk price. Based on an output of 27l/day, this price cut works out at is 81c/cow/day. This shows clearly how costly the month of May really was.

Silage cutting took off big time once the first warm day arrived last week. Quality is vitally important but it has to be balanced with quantity. I have 50t of silage left. I am planning to cut silage within the next week. The consensus was to cut silage at the usual time and try to make up the quantity in the second/third cut. With the higher cost of fuel this year, silage making is not cheap so I will try to get value for money. Even though there is now a cost for testing grass I will still take some samples. It gives a useful indicator for any nitrogen levels.

The first batch of calves got to the field last week in the usual mayhem. I put them in with a couple of cows in the paddock. This does help, along with making sure the electric fence is at full strength.

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My Friesian stock bull came to a sudden end last Tuesday. He had only gone with the cows for three days. He was lying a lot and stiff. My first thought was that he had hurt himself. Something always tells you to ring the vet. The vet's verdict was a severe heart murmur. He recommended slaughter right away.

He advised me that bulls are bad patients and if I had started to treat him he would be not be in working form for a long time.

The teaser bull is back in again and I will continue to AI. I had to split in half my batch of 22 bulling heifers as they were running out of grass. I am hopeful they were all served by AI once and then the bull. I gave them an oral dose for fluke and worms.

There are 72 cows milking at the moment. Their daily average is 28.5l at 3.67pc butterfat, 3.18pc protein and 2kg milk-solids per cow.

Cows are fed on average 4kgs of 16pc high-energy maize ration (0.95 UFL) in the parlour. I am hoping for a good lift in protein when they are out fulltime. I have one cow left to calve.

I have been asked if I do grass measuring. I don't do it regularly but when I do I see the great benefits it has. It takes the guess work out of whether I will have enough grass in a week's time. It shows up when you are running short and allows you make decisions in time.

It should be a weekly job. It's just difficult to set myself a specific time and day to do it. As they say the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

I want to send good-luck wishes to all the agriculture science students in the Leaving Cert. A group from the local St Louis Secondary School used my farm for their project. I was very impressed with their enthusiasm for farming. Long may it continue.

With the school holidays approaching I need to be very vigilant when children are around. We all must work harder at being accident-free so that we can enjoy the long, hopefully hot, days of June safely.

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

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