Dairy farmers who have a grass budget and keep their farm on target cover save €100/cow/year in feed costs, Donal Patton, Teagasc Ballyhaise told the Irish Grassland Association Dairy Conference.
Building and balancing a grass budget, is key, he said. Too often, he said, farmers are doing a good job walking the paddocks and collecting the data from week to week, but unfortunately the planning stops there.
“The wedge is a picture of the farm on a given day, the budget on the other hand, allows us to predict ahead what is likely to happen in the next week/month.”
Quoting Teagasc Ballyhaise figures, he said that the target grass levels is to build supply from mid-August by extending rotation length to a peak farm cover of 1,100kg DM/ha on the farm by early October.
The aim, he says is, 16t DM/ha of grass to grow and use it. However, the availability of grass in spring and autumn is the main issue limiting this.
He said that while soil type and the weather affects growth rates on every farm, it also has to do with the management and that’s what farmers can control.
“The importance of supply and demand is a skill set that develops over time.
“Accurate measurement is important, be patient, regular measurement will allow you to build up a good picture of your own farm.”
From October through to April farmers are not growing enough to meet demand, so you have to plan for it, he said.
“Start at the end point and see what cover you need then and work your way back.
“Our grass doesn’t start growing until April. But the variation from week to week and year to year makes it all the more important to measure.”
His advice to farmers on grass budgeting is:
- Take an average of three years of grass growth rates;
- Input a growth for each week of the year;
- Pick a similar farm if you have no data on your own farm;
- Work out the number of cows grazing for each week and with accurate calving patterns;
- Look at the number of ha available for grazing each week;
- Input planned feeding regime;
- Work out ‘magic day’ for your farm – day when growth = demand;
- What farm cover will you need at planned start of calving to get to the ‘magic day’?;
- What cover will you have to close the farm at to have the correct opening cover?;
- What peak cover can I realistically utilise?;
- When will I have to start building to get to this peak?
- Essentially you work backwards with the aim of arriving at the ‘magic day’ when the correct grass cover and minimal feed inputs fed over the autumn and spring.