February proves difficult month to meet grazing targets

February has been a challenging month for farmers to meet their grazing targets. Many may have targeted to have 30% of platform to be grazed by end February (lower % for northern farms).

I am seeing a few common themes on walks this week:

Over allocation of feed

We must match grass budget with spring allocation area. The belief that following the spring rotation planner will mean we won’t run out of grass is flawed – rotation planner is setup so we don’t run out of area, if we are grazing all high covers now then we will hit a feed deficit in mid-late March.

A deficit is easily filled now when intakes are low, whereas filling a feed deficit in late March when more cows have calved and cows are close to peaking intake will require much more supplement to be introduced.

Hit rotation planner area targets (with low covers if needs be) but monitor AFC drop closely in grass budget. Grass budget must be completed up to mid April to ensure AFC doesn’t drop too low before then (target 10 x demand by magic day).

Ground conditions

Unfortunately we only grazed cows for seven days in February, while disappointing, it is fairly typical for this farm owing to high levels of rainfall.

Cows will go back to grass this week, providing we have enough drier paddocks to carry them until heavier paddocks dry out, cows will be out night and day very quick to increase grazing area.

The heavier soil on this farm (dry for Tyrone but wet in comparison to some typical free draining southern farms) means that ground conditions can deteriorate quickly (and improve very rapidly after few days sunshine), therefore we have to respect ground conditions. On drier farms, whilst they can handle more continued grazing in wetter weather, the damage done to soil can be quite severe if not respected.

  • On/off grazing is a must when ground conditions are difficult.
  • Backfence after each break.
  • If you think the cows need to be taken off their grazing area because it’s getting wet; take them off.
  • allocate carefully, allowing for increased intakes weekly (generally, cows intake increases by 1kgDM/cow/week, but is dependent on calving down rate).
  • stay off tender soil with heavy machinery; umbilical system is a super method of spreading slurry without heavy tankers tearing up ground.

Farm management advice

Calves born in march need as much care as those born in Feb –  Key steps: 3-4L colostrum as soon as possible after calving, disinfected navals and deep clean straw bedded pens.

If bull calves are not being sold straight away (or as soon as is legally permitted) and are adding to workload, sell them ASAP and buy tickets for yourself to this weekend’s country festival in Dublin.

Everybody needs a break; no days off are a sign of inefficiency rather than efficiency.

SCC

Record herd and identify any high SCC cows/heifers and treat. Use an anti-inflammatory along with the antibiotics to improve SCC after treatment, discuss this with vet.

Quota or no quota? 

Skinny cows have a lower chance of conceiving to first service. Select thin cows (2.75 or less) for Once a Day (OAD) milking.

It takes 3-4 weeks to gain 0.5 of a condition score during the year, in spring you don’t get weight gain by going OAD, you prevent weight loss. Two weeks on OAD is useless, they must get 3-4 weeks so be disciplined. We mark any OAD cows with two tapes on legs and keep with main herd, they get the same meal as the other cows.

Cathal McAleer is a grassland consultant working with individual farmers and facilitating discussion groups throughout Ireland.

087 160 2491 / 0044 7749 531679 [email protected]

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