Three top factors to consider when putting in a paddock system

Increasing production from grass is the number one method of increasing farm profitability under an Irish dairy farming system, according to Teagasc’s Donal Patton

Speaking at a recent open day, the Ballyhaise based dairy researcher urged farmers to prioritise grazing infrastructure spending on their farms.

But how can farmers improve this improve this important aspect of their business?

Patton highlighted the key steps which all dairy farmers should consider when trying to maximise the grass proportion of their cows diets.

Roadways

According to Patton, roadways are the starting point as cows need access to the grass. He added that cows should never be more than 200m from a road way. This will allow the cow’s access to every part of the farm.

“Roads are very important and as herds expand they become more important. With bigger herds you need wider road ways, 4m for herds up to 100 cows, above that you will need a 5m roadway.”

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Roadways must also be wider as cows approach the parlour as they require loads of room to amble in to milking, he said.

Good surfaces are also vital as cows can feel every stone so a good surface is critical. He added that intersections should be wide and gradual because cows don’t like turning sharp corners.

Paddocks

This is an area which causes a fair bit of debate and hassle, particularly in expanding herds, said Patton.

Square shaped paddocks are ideal, as a rough rule of thumb about two times as long as is wide is a far as you want to go, he said.

The reason is that you do not want long narrow paddocks as there is an increased tendency for cows to walk in these paddocks which results in increased soil damage during difficult conditions.

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According to Patton, three grazing paddocks are ideal as the cow gets fed really well twice then on the last grazing she has to work to clean out the paddock.

There is also a tendency to under feed cows by 5-10% using 12 hour wires, he said.

The Teagasc researcher also said there is no point in putting in a good roadway system and then realising that it doesn’t work for the size of herd, so flexibility is essential for a couple of years to see what works.

Water

Water is an important factor as it makes up 90% of milk. Health, welfare and production issues occur when cows do not have adequate access to water, said Patton.

The most important point to consider is flow rate, this supersedes trough size. Patton added that most farmers put in a larger troughs rather than address the flow rate issue.

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The only relevance trough size has is head space, and he added that there is no point having a 350 litre trough with a half inch water supply.

He also said that drinkers should be positioned in areas where it is easy to sub divide and back fence paddocks in difficult conditions.

Key points to consider

  • Maximise days at grass
  • Roadways for easy access to the farm
  • Wide and gradual intersections
  • 3 grazings per paddocks in good conditions
  • Keep paddock size flexible for the first couple of years to see what works
  • Adequate access points off the farm road way to paddocks
  • Water – Flow rate is critical not trough size
  • Position the trough in a place to make it easier to sub divided paddocks 
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