Grazing deficits are being reported on many dairy farms in Northern Ireland, as persistent cold temperatures and low rainfall challenge growing conditions.
Grass Check shows that grass growth rate is well below the previous 10 year average and, as expected, this is having a major impact on grazing. With lower than average rainfall recorded in the past month and little expected for the incoming week, a soil moisture deficit may also be having an impact on grass growth in the east of the province.
Michael Verner, CAFRE dairying adviser based in Newry, says: “It is important to be proactive, walk the grazing platform weekly to check what grass is available for grazing and to assess re-growths. A grass budgeting tool can help with calculating both your herd’s grass demand and grass availability and to identify any shortfalls. Average farm cover should not be allowed to fall below 2,100Kg DM/ha.”
Michael continued: “You could consider increasing the size of the grazing area by bringing some silage ground into the rotation. If poor growth persists, you might be forced to feed silage shortly after conserving it, so it makes sense to graze some now and cut the rest. However, be careful not to graze too much of your potential winter fodder supply.”
Aim to target the best forage to the most productive animals on the farm so milking cows should continue to have access to grass while young-stock could be held in the house for longer and continue to be fed last year’s silage. It would be wise to remove dry cows from the grazing platform and to feed them silage. With ground conditions favourable, consider grazing higher covers or heavier parts of the farm. Pre-cutting can help with utilisation of heavier covers and encourage dry matter intake.
Michael advises that concentrate supplementation rates should be adjusted to take account of your forage situation. M+ rates in computerised milking parlours should be reduced based on grass supply and forage supplementation. Continue to monitor milk yields and quality, dry matter intakes and oestrus behaviour to ensure the diet is meeting the energy demands of the cows.
If grass silage is available, feeding 6 to 8kg DMI of silage will halve the herd’s grass demand. Avoiding prolonged periods in one field will also ensure faster re-growths so where possible cows should be grazed in 12 hour grazing blocks and fence off re-growths with a back fence as soon as possible.
If grass is limited and silage on-farm is not available, then Michael highlights that other options can be considered for filling the dry matter intake shortfall. These include the purchase of grass/maize/whole-crop silage or dry feeds such as soya hulls or sugar beet pulp, purchased on a value for money basis.
Michael concludes that: “in the short term, you may have to spend money on feed but the payback in performance may be worth many times that amount later in the year if it enables cows to reach peak yield, achieve good fertility performance and maintain body condition.” Milk price is expected to be higher than last year through the spring-time ensuring that it should be profitable to feed additional bought in dry matter and maintain milk yield if necessary. Other more radical decisions may have to be made if slow growth persists but for now, it is important to take action to meet any potential feed gap on the farm.