Making the most of grazed grass with high-yielding cows will be a key topic of discussion at the upcoming GrassCheck farm walk in Ahoghill, Co. Antrim.

Harold Johnston farms in partnership with his sons Jack and Mark, running a herd of 270 autumn and winter-calving Holstein-Friesian cows. Cows on the farm average 9,000L/year.

The herd is one of 20 dairy farms participating in the GrassCheck project, which involves weekly recording of grass growth across the grazing platform.

Harold has been measuring grass growth on his farm for the last five years and is using the data to boost both grass production and cow performance from forage. Last year, the farm grew 12.6t DM/ha across the grazing platform.

The farm currently produces 2,500L/cow/year from forage - something Harold aims to increase to 3,000L/cow/year through better management of his grazing platform.

“In the past four years, we have focused heavily on our soils on both the grazing and silage areas to boost our grass yields," he said.

We have invested heavily in lime and now have 89.5% of the farm with soils above pH 6 and a similar proportion at index 2 or above for P and K.

The farm also uses grass measurement data to identify underperforming grazing fields and earmark them for reseeding.

Throughout the grazing season, the herd is managed in one group and fed-to-yield in the parlour, with Harold regularly reviewing the maintenance-plus value to balance good cow performance and grazing efficiency.

When the farm initially moved to grazing during the summer months, immediate reductions in concentrate use were achieved without any negative impact on the herd's performance.

Measuring and budgeting grass each week has been essential in managing our grazing each season.

"It has given us more confidence in allocating grass for cow requirement and has helped avoid unnecessary buffer feeding, freeing up time for other tasks,” Harold adds.

At the farm walk event, there will be an opportunity to hear updates on the GrassCheck programme for 2019, along with the latest research results from a number of trials.

Farm walks

The farm walk on Harold Johnston's farm will be held on: Friday, April 26, at 10:45am at 5 Clooney Road, Ahoghill, Co. Antrim, BT42 2RA.

Another farm walk will also be held on Joe Cush's farm on Thursday, April 25, at 10:45am at 92 Lurganeden Road, Pomeroy, Co. Tyrone, BT70 2TL.

In the interests of biosecurity, those attending are asked to wear clean clothing not previously worn while in direct contact with their own animals. Outdoor work boots should not be worn. Protective overalls and footwear will be provided.