Grass advice: Wet weather takes its toll, but conditions starting to improve

Ground conditions in the north and west of the country has made grazing extremely difficult over the past two weeks.

The dry weather forecast for the next few days is very much needed. As we begin closing up paddocks, it is essential we hit the target residual of 3.5-4cm.

If cows are being buffer fed silage or housed by night, it is difficult to convince the cows that grazing tight is for the greater good long term.

Any clumps left now will decay and rot, leaving space for chickweed and other weeds/weed grasses to invade the sward by next spring.

It is also a perfect habitat for leather jackets, those daddy longlegs you see among the grass are laying their eggs, waiting for poor residuals for their young to feed on.

grazed grass cover Oct 15

Talk of tight residuals is cheap when ground conditions deteriorate fast, it becomes a matter of getting to the driest paddock and trying to keep the cows grazing as long as possible before housing becomes inevitable.

Financials of grazing vs housing

So is all this effort and hard work worth it?

Having inhaled about a bucket of lime while bedding cubicles last week, rest assure that it is. But let’s look at the economics of keeping cows at grass as long as we can.

Last Friday we had to house cows at night as ground conditions were brutal. What did housing cost?

We fed 2kg of meal and 7kg Dry Matter of silage. The 2kg of meal cost 40c, while the 7kg of silage (16c/kg DM) cost €1.12, so a total of €1.52. This replaced 8kg of DM of grazed grass at a cost of 6c/kg or 48c.

Therefore, the total cost was €1.04 (approx 90p Sterling) per cow per day.

For a 100 cow herd, this would equate to an additional ‘feed’ cost of €104 for each night cows are housed.

Agri-Business

Slurry storage, sawdust, lime are all extra costs. So when you are putting up reels 2m from your hedge to make a track to the back of the paddock to save cows damaging the front, or putting up extra reels to keep cows back-fenced off grazed area of paddock, remember that you are saving a lot of money.

Silage can be convenient, (especially when the weather turns against us) but it has a lower nutritional value than well managed grass and a higher cost.

Milk yield, protein and lactose percentage will be negatively affected by silage inclusion. Low lactose and protein are due to lower energy content of feed consumed.

My point here is that a lot of time is involved in successfully managing your grass this autumn, poor weather conditions make us question why we bother, but the above paragraph hopefully answers that to a degree.

grass growth

Managing grass

Now on to the good stuff. How do we manage covers in October?

This is specific for each farm. On our farm, there are some very steep paddocks. These will grow very little in late autumn and winter so we need to close these ASAP.

If we don’t accumulate a nice cover back on these paddocks in October, we will open in February with low covers on them.

As they can be the driest paddocks to graze first, we must have covers greater than 700-800kg DM/ha on as many as these as possible.

As the slurry closing date is mid October, it is beneficial to get these paddocks spread with slurry as they are closed.

Abbey 2500R Premium plus slurry tank

After today’s farm walk, I looked at where these paddocks are on the grass wedge, even though a good few of them aren’t at the top of the wedge, I will skip between these and the highest covers to get as much ground closed as possible.

I don’t want the highest covers getting much above 2000kg DM/ha.

Ground conditions can change dramatically in the space of a few days so walk your ground before deciding where you will graze this week.

If you have had to house cows because conditions were poor, that’s good management.

You saved your ground from being tramped. However, is this a long term decision? It should be a bi-weekly one; review it as often as you can.

Questions that need to be answered:
  • Can I get cows out full-time again?
  • Could I skip onto lower covers so I can close up 15% of the grazing platform per week?
  • If I am behind on my closing target for week one, could I increase the stocking rate temporarily by reducing level of supplement (if any) being fed?

Paddocks with excellent track access are priceless in spring when you are trying to put cows out so close these paddocks anytime between now and mid October.

What paddocks should I delay closing?

Any paddocks that were reseeded this year or last year can be delayed from being closed.

Also delay closing any paddocks that grow very well during the winter, remember we are at the start of the closing period – approx 120 days until start of February so we don’t want excessive covers on these paddocks by then.

Key points:
  • Every additional day at grass in autumn is worth approx €1.70/cow/day so your hard work is worth it
  • Milk price is very low – focus on next season, can we open with a high AFC (>750) to ensure our costs of production are low next spring?
  • If ground conditions deteriorate fast, act fast. When they improve, resume grazing. Damaging soil is extremely expensive and collapses paddock production long term
  • If you need to up-skill, go to a member of your group or a neighbour how excels in the area that you need to improve in
  • A rising SCC is not a sign of cows nearing the end of lactation, it is a sign of bad management. Milk record if SCC rising and treat/cull offenders. This is a time to focus on milk bonuses not accept penalties
  • Weigh calves and body condition score cows
  • Do a cashflow budget for at least the winter months and walk the farm weekly