Managing grass to produce fodder

A NORTHERN IRELAND VIEW ON GRASS

So far the month of June has provided a welcome respite from the adverse weather conditions over the previous 12 months.

With the first cut of silage safely ensiled it is time to consider a fodder budget for the forthcoming winter and assess the quantity of fodder still required. This can be reviewed as the season progresses and further cuts of silage are ensiled. It is also important to manage grass to provide good quality grazing as this is the cheapest and most profitable feed for summer milk production.

Alan Coalter who farms 60 commercial Holstein Friesian cows and 24 replacement heifers, near Ballinamallard, had a low reserve of fodder when his dairy herd achieved full turnout. This situation would have been worse if Alan had not taken advantage of the dry ground conditions in March to graze his dairy herd by day on grass carried over from the previous autumn. Not only did this part-day grazing save valuable silage but it also increased milk yields by 2 litres/cow /day.

Silage on the Coalter farm is all made in big bales. The grass is mowed, tedded out to achieve a rapid wilt and then raked before being baled. So far 280 bales have been made in the first cut at the beginning of June and from some surplus grazing. With 16 hectares closed off for the second cut and plans for some third cut silage, as well as the possibility of ensiling some more surplus grazing, Alan is fairly confident of resolving the shortfall.

However, he will keep his fodder situation under review and if a deficit exists then consider culling some of his less productive cows.

On this grazing rotation the dairy herd has been grazing heavy grass covers. Alan has pre-cut these swards 12-18 hours prior to grazing to improve grass utilisation and allow for a better quality regrowth than after topping. He has also increased his fertiliser application after each grazing to 3 bags/hectare (1.25 bags/acre) of straight nitrogen (27 per cent N ) with sulphur. Grass growth is being carefully monitored and Alan plans to be able to remove a grazing paddock for big bale silage at a later date.

Careful planning and budgeting will help dairy farmers meet the challenge of re-establishing fodder supplies. Taking every opportunity to make extra silage is essential. Good grazing management is a key factor in maximising the profitability of summer milk production. CAFRE Dairying Advisers are available to discuss individual situations and help with any aspect of grassland management.

By Alan Warnock, CAFRE Dairying Development Adviser

Pictured is Alan Coalter who farms 60 commercial Holstein Friesian cows and 24 replacement heifers, near Ballinamallard, Co Fermanagh

Image courtesy the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

 

 

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