Grass growth rate averaged 60kg/day on dairy farms for the past week. This is back a nice bit on last weeks’ figures but the average probably doesn’t accurately reflect the differences in growth between farms.

Some farms are really struggling, with growth rates in the mid 30s and they have no option but to feed heavily in order to maintain a 21 day rotation length. For the majority of farmers, growth rate is more or less equal to demand, but they can already see a big drop in growth coming – it’s in the post.

While soil moisture deficits are not particularly severe, a lack of moisture seems to be the issue, although we can’t rule out the impact of lower than normal nitrogen fertiliser rates either.

Certainly, the amount of organic or background nitrogen being mobilised by soil microbes doesn’t seem to be contributing as much N as one would expect for the time of year, or maybe there is just less N in the system to be mobilised.

It’s difficult to give advice in this page because every farm is different, and I know parts of the north and west have got plenty of rain and aren’t looking for any more.

The localised nature of the rain over the last six weeks means that there are farms in the south that have got plenty of rain also, while their neighbours have got none. All anybody can do is work with the hand they’ve been dealt.

If dry and getting drier, stop all topping and pre-mowing and consider grazing fields that you may have intended for silage but haven’t yet cut. Because it’s a slow and gradual grass deficit, I’d be inclined to protect average farm cover at 500kg/ha.

In other words, don’t let the farm go below this level. If we do end up in a drought then forget about this and let average farm cover go lower because if you don’t use the grass you’ll lose it.

However, we are nowhere near this level yet and who knows, in a week’s time we might get plenty of rain.

Sward watch

  • Keep up fertiliser applications where growth rates remain above 50kg or 60kg/ha/day as there will still be uptake of nutrients at these growth rates.
  • If growth rates drop further and grass goes crispy then cease fertiliser spreading.
  • Consider feeding silage if more than 4kg or 5kg of meal per day is required to sustain a 21 day round.
  • Use the best quality silage available as cows are still milking well and you want to avoid a big drop in total energy intake.
  • Maintain rotation length at 21 to 25 days. There is no point in going any longer than this.
  • Farmers

    Barry Reilly – Teagasc Ballyhaise, Co Cavan

    We’re a bit tight for grass at the moment. We’re not looking for rain, but we are looking for some heat. To be fair, the last few days have been good and we should pull ourselves out of trouble quickly.

    We’re not spreading any nitrogen on the grass and clover treatments and it’s showing in the growth rates. The grass-only treatments are growing 10kg or 15kg more per day, but they are getting 25 units/acre of nitrogen after each grazing.

    The grass-clover fields are a bit stemmy and stressed looking, but we expect the clover to start fixing more N from now on. We are going to spray the reseeds this week and hopefully graze them next week.

    Stocking Rate (cows/ha) 3.42

    Growth Rate (kg/day) 60

    Average Farm Cover (kg/cow) 140

    Yield (l/cow) 22.7

    Fat % 4.55

    Protein% 3.60

    Milk Solids (kg/cow) 1.9

    Supplement fed (kg/cow/day) 1

    Niall Walsh – UCD Lyons, Co Kildare

    We had a fierce dry spell here around two weeks ago when growth rates fell to the mid-30s, but then we spread fertiliser across the whole farm and thankfully a good bit of rain followed, and the place was completely transformed within a few days.

    It’s the type of farm that needs some rain every week. Even though growth is good we still have a lot of stem in paddocks.

    In spite of this, we currently have no other option but to keep grazing, as we are trying to avoid taking out paddocks for silage just yet.

    We are spreading 9kg N/hectare once a month on the fields with good clover content.

    Stocking Rate (cows/ha) 3.45

    Growth Rate (kg/day) 97

    Average Farm Cover (kg/cow) 208

    Yield (l/cow) 29

    Fat % 4.3

    Protein% 3.56

    Milk Solids (kg/cow) 2.35

    Supplement fed (kg/cow/day) 5

    Alex McCarthy – Feenagh, Co Limerick

    The farm is growing well at the moment, but I can see things beginning to slow down in the next week or so if we don’t get rain, but we’re happy enough at the moment with a good bit of grass ahead of the cows.

    At this stage about 30% of the farm has decent clover content and this is only getting 12 units/acre of nitrogen after grazing, while the grass only paddocks are getting 16 units/acre.

    We sowed some multispecies and more grass and clover this year so we should have close to 40% with good clover by the end of the year.

    We used 72 straws of sexed semen this year and we’re happy enough with non-return rates so far.

    Stocking Rate (cows/ha) 3.45

    Growth Rate (kg/day) 71

    Average Farm Cover (kg/cow) 173

    Yield (l/cow) 25

    Fat % 3.83

    Protein% 3.63

    Milk Solids (kg/cow) 1.9

    Supplement fed (kg/cow/day) 2