At Tuesday’s open day on the farm of last year’s Grassland Farmer of the Year Colin Doherty in Adare, Co Limerick, we were told that the weather pattern this year was very similar to 1995.

That year, the rain came late and grass growth rates only peaked in late September at 40kg/day.

In his grass budget, Colin was predicting a grass growth rate of 60kg per day by the same period. Colin’s target is to hit an average farm cover of 800kg/ha by 1 December.

Colin said he had three modes of action if this target is looking like it won’t be met. Firstly, he can cull the empty cows sooner (the plan currently is to start culling in October).

Secondly he can feed more silage or zero-grazed grass (plan currently is to stop feeding in October) and finally, he can dry off low-yielding cows earlier and put them in the shed or graze the outfarm.

Having the grass budget done gave him peace of mind that there’s a way out of the current grass problem.

Now, many farms have got between 30mm and 60mm of rain over the last week and are no longer in a soil moisture deficit, but are still in a grass growth deficit. I have been surprised at how quickly some fields have greened up since the rain came, something I expected to take a lot longer.

The advice now is to give farms a chance to recover. Slow up the rotation length to 35-40 days. This means that you divide the farm into 35-40 segments and graze only one segment per day.

So a farm with 100 acres should be grazing no more than 2.9 to 2.5 acres per day. The lower the round length, the more area is being grazed per day and vice versa.

It’s final call for fertiliser in the coming week. The advice is not to go too heavy and stick to 16 to 20 units/acre, which is a good balance between agronomic and economic response. The last day for spreading is next Wednesday.

Sward watch

  • The average grass growth rates recorded this week on PastureBase and GrassCheckNI is 35kg/day, but the predicted grass growth rate for the coming week is a good bit higher at around 45kg/ha.
  • Nearly all farms are well behind target for grass, even those that weren’t too badly affected by the dry spell. All farms should complete an autumn grass budget now to ensure target cover is met at closing.
  • Herds should be put on a 35- to 40-day rotation length now to allow farms that were affected by the dry spell to recover. This will mean heavy feeding should continue on many dairy farms for a few more weeks.
  • Farmers

    David Brady – Stradone, Co Cavan

    Farm growth had been stagnant in August, sitting in the 50s, which would be just above demand. Usually, we would be mowing out paddocks in August but this year we have just been building covers slightly.

    We’ve gotten some heavy showers over the past few days which should push on growth. At this stage we have enough rain for a heavy farm. Farm cover is sitting at 770kg DM/ha and I won’t push this above 1,000kg/ha.

    We’ve milk checked the cows for pregnancy, with only four cows that were bred showing as empty. There seems to be no activity among heifers, so hopefully they are all in-calf.

    Stocking rate (cows/ha) 2.74

    Growth rate (kg/day) 62

    Average farm cover (kg/cow) 281

    Yield (l/cow) 21.5

    Fat % 4.43

    Protein% 3.83

    Milk solids (kg/cow) 1.82

    Supplement fed (kg/cow/day) 3.5

    Brian Hogan – Horse and Jockey, Co Tipperary

    We got no significant rain until the start of this week. The farm wasn’t badly burnt, but still we have seen greenness return to the sward. We have been feeding 3-4kg of silage and 4kg of meal the past few weeks.

    Once the heavy showers pass, we will blanket spread the farm with fertiliser. Anything requiring K will receive a bag and a half of 19-0-15, with anything not requiring it receiving 30 units/acre of protected urea.

    We have some reseeds coming back in to the rotation soon. They were sown early August, with Aberspain and Aberban grass varieties and 1kg each of Aberlasting and Aurora clover used.

    Stocking rate (cows/ha) 2.81

    Growth rate (kg/day) 37

    Average farm cover (kg/cow) 197

    Yield (l/cow) 20

    Fat % 4.56

    Protein% 3.83

    Milk solids (kg/cow) 1.72

    Supplement fed (kg/cow/day) 4

    Eoin McGrath – Teagasc Curtins, Co Cork

    We have finally received some worthwhile rainfall. Over 60mm of rain fell here in the past five days so regrowth and pasture quality are expected to improve in the next week. Rotation length now stands at 25 days.

    We have stopped feeding silage, but cows have remained on 6kg of concentrates/head/day to help build cover. The AFC has risen to over 1,100kg, with cows heading in to covers of 1,100kg DM/ha.

    We will continue to apply one unit per day of N (protected urea) to the grass-only group of cows until the end of next week. Milk yield is holding up well. The entire farm received half a bag of MOP last week.

    Stocking rate (cows/ha) 2.84

    Growth rate (kg/day) 31

    Average farm cover (kg/cow) 213

    Yield (l/cow) 20

    Fat % 5.55

    Protein% 3.94

    Milk solids (kg/cow) 1.72

    Supplement fed (kg/cow/day) 6