COMMENT: The continued heavy rainfall has led to a huge change in ground conditions as heavy pre-grazing covers are now becoming difficult to graze out.

Four key areas we must focus on over the next few weeks before we house animals for the winter:

Ensure autumn rotation planner is on target

If you have a heavy soil type then closing up more ground sooner than originally planned is advised as utilisation may be greater now than in mid November. The rotation planner is a useful tool in closing up enough ground for the last round, however if the regrowths of grazed paddocks is poor and closing cover is not on target, then closing up a greater area of ground sooner, (for example 75 per cent of grazing area closed by 1 Nov rather than 60 per cent) will give these regrowths more time to increase cover and hence AFC, before housing.

Increase grass utilisation

Controlling cows appetite leads to increased DMI (Dry Matter Intake). This can be achieved from on/off grazing (2 x 3-4hr grazing intervals) or if ground conditions remain reasonable, keep cows in for 2hrs after morning milking and then put out to graze until evening milking and likewise after evening milking. This will increase the cows appetite and therefore they spend less time walking/damaging ground. If feeding silage, don’t put cows out in morning if they are full. When my cows line up at the gate out of the shed after morning milking, they are hungry and want out – if they go and lye down in the cubicles I don’t let them out until they get up themselves, (we have a great understanding!).
Increased appetite = increased grass utilisation = reduced soil damage

Minimise soil damage

Grassland management must be excellent in autumn, there are numerous examples of poor grassland management around the country with youngstock/dry cows out damaging ground in a senseless bid to delay housing. This will reduce body condition of said animals, impact on soil structure and grass production next year. Grazing heavy covers in wet weather can be tricky; back fence daily, graze in square blocks as cows walk less, cows are drinking very little water but access to water troughs is required if grazing for more than three hours.

Closing cover target

This must be achieved; it may mean that you don’t finish the last rotation (if finishing the last rotation means closing too low). Milk price is high now which is great but cash flow is especially important in spring so cost of production must be low and output must be high. Spring grass is higher in quality and is better feed for an early lactation animal than autumn grass is for a late lactation animal so close the farm at the correct AFC – the same can be said for youngstock or you will have them housed until April waiting on grass to grow on outfarm!

Although conditions are becoming difficult on some farms, it has been an excellent autumn. It is common for farmers to slacken now as the pressure tends to ease, don’t let grassland management fall! The repayments will be huge.

Look at what you have done this summer and autumn that has worked well and give yourself credit for them! If cash flow/repayments are an issue on farm, contact a qualified friend/person you know in that field for helpful information on how to solve the issue.

By Cathal Mc Aleer, consultant with Grasstec Dairy Solutions who provide a dairy consultancy, farm infrastructure design and livestock sourcing service in Ireland and UK.  Cathal can be contacted on +44 (0)77 495 31679 or [email protected]