Best-practice advice for dairy farmers dealing with drought conditions

Farmers are encouraged to put in place a plan to tackle the impact of deteriorating grass growth levels, according to Glanbia Ireland.

Following a recent survey conducted among suppliers, on average, the current shortfall represents 10 days of winter feed across the Glanbia Ireland area.

However, it is as high as 23 days of silage equivalent in the worst affected counties, the processor warned.

In a 100 cow herd, currently yielding 26 litres/day, the difference between a decline of 3% per week and 2.5% per week would be a loss of more than €7,000 between now and the end of lactation at current milk price.

In an update following more relatively dry weather in recent days, Glanbia Ireland’s technical team is advising farmers on steps that can be taken to protect milk yield and help safeguard grass growth.

Farmers are being urged to extend rotation length to 24-25 days, maintain a minimum farm cover of 500kg DM/ha, walk the farm more regularly to monitor growth and make good timely weather-based decisions.

Grassland management and nutrition:
  • Create a management plan to fill the demand gap. Early intervention and strategic use of concentrate is advisable to retain the integrity and structure of the normal grazing rotation;
  • Do not allow total grass cover to fall below 500kgs DM/ha as it slows recovery;
  • Maintain post grazing residuals of 4cm. Over-grazing will impede recovery especially in dry conditions;
  • Where silage volumes are tight, avoid eating into next winter’s feed where possible;
  • Grass demand is driven predominantly by stocking rates – demand should match growth on the platform. To decrease demand: bring back in uncut silage ground into the rotation if cover is less than 2500kg DM/ha. Strip-graze to achieve good utilisation; also prioritise lactating cows over dry stock and young stock as alternative diets can be used;
  • Maintain fertiliser N applications while the farm is still green;
  • Where slurry is not applied or delayed it is important to use P and K with nitrogen;
  • When available grass falls below 12kgs DM/cow/day there is a requirement to introduce incremental forage in conjunction with concentrates/straights;
  • When grass availability falls to 60% or less of dry matter intake, a good source of long fibre is critical to sustain milk solids and rumen function. The most ideal product for this purpose is alfalfa. Glanbia has a limited quantity of Alfalfa is available;
  • In severe deficit situations consider confining dry stock and using a combination of silage, concentrates or straight to preserve grass for high-priority stock.

Farmers seeking further information should speak to their local group representative, the processor said.