Plan for a good autumn

Despite the dreadful weather conditions we have experienced all summer it is important that we take an optimistic view of the likely weather for the next few months and plan for good weather. If you do not do so you may miss the opportunity to maximise grass in the diet this autumn and have to feed expensive supplementary concentrates and or dry off cows early. It is better to plan for good weather and adapt if it is bad rather than the other way around.

Despite the dreadful weather conditions we have experienced all summer it is important that we take an optimistic view of the likely weather for the next few months and plan for good weather. If you do not do so you may miss the opportunity to maximise grass in the diet this autumn and have to feed expensive supplementary concentrates and or dry off cows early. It is better to plan for good weather and adapt if it is bad rather than the other way around.

To extend the grazing seasons this Autumn and have early grass next Spring, you must have certain levels of grass on your farm this Autumn otherwise, you won’t derive the benefits. The following target covers per cow (kgs DM/cow) are suggested:

On September 1 you should have 350+ Kgs DM/cow. By September 15 it should be 400-450 Kgs DM/cow. By October 1 it should be 435 Kgs DM/cowand by October 15 it should be 425 Kgs DM/cow. For example if your stocking rate is 2.3 cows per hectare in mid September, then you calculate your average farm cover (kg DM/ha) requirement as follows:

450 x 2.3 = 1,035 Kgs DM per hectare.

You will be aiming for highest farm covers in mid-September. The average farm cover should be 1,000-1,250 Kgs DM per hectare and pre-grazing covers should not be greater than 2,300 Kgs DM; otherwise, quality will be poor due to excessive rotting. Use the strip wire to ration grass if covers are greater than 2,000 Kgs DM and/or if cows are remaining in a paddock/field longer than 2½ grazings; and/or if weather is wet. Paddocks must be grazed out tight to 4- 4.5 cms. This encourages winter tillering, and makes it easier to graze out the last rotation.

Where grass demand is greater than grass growth, quality round bales and meals must be introduced, otherwise, grass will run out in late October. Most farmers should feed 2 kg. meal/cow/day. Unless grass on the strong paddock is excessively heavy, over 2,400 Kgs DM, no cutting or topping should be done in September as it will have a very big detrimental effect on the quantity of grass in the last rotation.

Grazing in difficult conditions - There is no point in having grass and complaining about the weather, wet ground etc. You must get on with using all the recommended practices to graze grass under these conditions. Remember a few principles about cow behaviour:

Cows eat most of their grass feed in 2.5-3 hours after each milking (so leave them out to graze for 2.5 hours after each milking and then remove them off the paddock).

Cows eat very little during the night but become active again at sunrise, probably 6 am. (if it rains during the night they will have little or no damage done by 6 am, because they will have not been walking, so take them in early for milking on wet mornings).

In wet weather cows eat with ‘5 mouths’ because of all the damage they do with their feet (therefore, reduce walking in paddocks).

Cows do 2-3 times more walking in long narrow paddocks or strip grazed areas than in square blocks (allocate cows’ square areas).

Cows do most walking when it is raining (therefore, never let out cows when its raining and always bring them in when it starts to rain).

Cows will eat 80-90% of their grass allowance in 2-3 hours (therefore, let them out with an appetite by not feeding silage or delay let-out by 2-3 hours after milking).

Soiled grass by clay or dirt will not be eaten by cows (so, keep roadways, paddock entrances and around water troughs clean and use several entrances into the paddock)

Water saturated fields should not be grazed (too much poaching and low intakes)

Uneaten grass will prevent poaching (therefore, walk cows over good grass to the back of the paddock). Grazed ground poaches very easily (never, ever let cows walk over paddocks that were grazed yesterday or the day before). Grass regrowths appear 2 days after grazing (so, always use a back fence to prevent animals eating regrowths).

Heavy grass covers take too long to graze which means cows are too long in small areas of paddocks. (The pre-grazing yield should never be more than 2,000-2,300 depending on stocking rate).

Your last Nitrogen

The amount of Nitrogen you can use now depends on how you have managed your nitrogen use to date this year. You can’t put on any if you have used all of your allocation by now. If you are in that boat, and if you have slurry or soiled water available you should cover as many acres as possible to maximise the benefit of the nitrogen therein.

All your bag nitrogen must be used before 15th September. If you spread after that you are subject to penalty. Your last day for spreading slurry is 15th October. It would be a good idea to wait till 1st-15th October to spread any left over slurry because the nitrogen it will make a contribution to grass growth in November. Lowly stocked farms, 2.24 cows per hectare or less, need no nitrogen because the nitrogen already spread and “background” nitrogen is adequate to grow the amount of grass required. Farmers with 2.47 cows per hectare (1 cow per acre) should apply 28 units per acre between 14th-15th September on the entire farm. Farmers stocked more heavily can only apply 18 units per acre of Nitrogen. Remember it is only 196 units per acre for the whole year. If this hasn’t been used to date you can apply more. Soiled water or slurry can be used in early October as a source of Nitrogen.

Important Teagasc fodder options clinics

A Teagasc fodder options clinic will be held in the Teagasc Offices in Kilkenny and Mullinavat at 11.00am for dairy farmers and at 2.00pm for drystock farmers on Thursday Sept 6th. All are welcome.

Greenfield Project Dairy Farm Walk

A Teagasc dairy farm walk will take place on the farm of Daniel and Amy O’Donnell, Knockaunacuit, Cappoquin, Co. Waterford on Friday September 7th at 10.30amThe farm is located at an altitude of 700 ft in the foot hills of the Knockmealdown Mountains. With soils of a heavy peaty nature, it is a wet farm with poor drainage and in an area of high rainfall.

 Daniel was milking approx 60 cows in 2008 and today he milks 81 cows on this family run farm. He will talk about his plans to milk 100 cows next year. Visitors will see and hear how Daniel has managed his farm during 2012 and how cash flow is being managed while expanding. Parking will be in nearby Mount Melleray Abbey, from where a shuttle bus service will be provided to the farm. Please follow the signs and do not park on the surrounding roads. This is a DEP approved event. All are welcome.