Grass advice for mid October – plan from here?

We are now a few weeks into closing paddocks, those closed within the next week are the paddocks we will graze first next spring as they will have a cover of 700-1,000kg/ha.

The autumn rotation planner works off the assumption that paddocks grazed after a certain date, are closed. There will be poor performing paddocks that may have been grazed in mid-late September that (although grazed after the official start of closing date) should be closed now owing to poor regrowths in autumn and early spring.

‘Grass grows grass’ – if we close these paddocks at 500kg/ha, we have leaf area that, through photosynthesis, will aid grass growth in late autumn and spring. In paddocks that have shallow soil or show signs of compaction, closing these paddocks early is very beneficial to their soil structure as the roots are able to penetrate the soil layers with the help of the autumn rainfall which softens the compacted soil. Examples of such fields would be steep hills. We did this on the farm last year and the two paddocks involved grew considerably better than usual in the first and second grazing rotations.

Dry off

The majority of spring-calving units are now considering drying off some low-yielding animals within the next few weeks. First lactation heifers require a 12-week dry period as they continue to grow and mature. Previous research has found that this extended dry off period improves lactation yields in subsequent lactations for first lactation animals. The target body condition score at dry off is 3.0. Animals below this target will require an additional 3-4 weeks dry. Cows require 40-60 days dry depending on body condition score.

There will be many farms that will have cows dried off longer than this owing to quota issues – the worst case scenario from this is over-conditioned cows next spring. Over-conditioned cows are more problematic than under conditioned cows as they lose more weight post calving, resulting from a build up of fat around internal organs, reducing their dry matter intake potential post calving. Access to feed must be considered, cows will bully heifers and therefore should be grouped.

There is no quota issues in Northern Ireland, but our basis for dry off is exactly the same as above; 12 weeks for heifers and 6-8 weeks for cows – why wouldn’t it be? We are conditioning cows for their next lactation. The SCC of our herd will average 60-70(’000) for 2014 and so only animals with a SCC above 150, or those that have had any mastitis cases this year will receive antibiotic tubes with the teat sealers. We will use only teat sealers on the main bulk of the herd. There is sufficient accommodation on the farm for the herd which allows us to use sealers only – on farms were sheds will be over stocked or some animals wintered on slats, I would not be confident that sealers alone would give cows sufficient protection.

Autumn calving

Grazing is nearing an end for autumn-calving cows. Grazing heavy autumn covers (>1,800kg/ha) can result in lower intakes for cows in early lactation and grazing after late October will generally suppress production and may compromise body condition score.

Autumn herds will close up 100% of their farms by the beginning of November, resulting in a flatter grass wedge next spring, required for the then mid lactation animals turned out to grass with a high demand. Calving difficulty and early lactation feeding will have a huge impact on fertility. Record any difficult calvings, metritis, milk fever cases etc as these animals must be scanned by vet pre breeding to identify any uterine issues; e.g. cysts, anoestrous cows etc. On units were there have been a lot of retained membranes; test silage (if dry cows fed indoors) to identify the potassium (K) content of the feed as high levels of K can suppress magnesium and calcium availability. Low energy levels can also cause an increase in retained membranes, animals must have adequate access to feed to get their 10-12kgDM intake.

“Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”

Lyndon B. Johnson