Dealing with difficult grazing conditions on west of Ireland dairy farms

Grazing conditions have improved on many farms around the country, but some farmers in the west are only starting to get cows out to grass this week, according to Teagasc’s Peter Comer.

In recent weeks, the Teagasc Dairy Specialist said that the protein content of milk has dropped on a number of farms, as cows were re-housed due to difficult grazing conditions.

He said that on one farm, the protein level dropped from 3.40% to 2.90%, as cows made the switch from high quality grass to silage.

“The drop in protein content of the milk is a sure sign of the value of spring grass.

“The problem with silage is that the quality is usually only average and milk protein suffers as the proportion of silage in the diet increases,” he said.

Comer was involved in the preparation of the Aurivo Teagasc Dairy Handbook, which offers farmers advice on making the best use of grass in dairying in the west and north west of Ireland.

Speaking to Agriland, Comer said that the grazing conditions were pretty poor on a number of farms, but they have improved enormously over the past three-to-four days.

“The weather conditions have been awful over the last couple of weeks.

There has been a lot more rain in the west of Ireland, land has been so wet that farmers have struggled to get cows, slurry and fertiliser out.

However, he said it is important that dairy farmers try and get their cows out to grass as soon as conditions allow.

Comer said that on-off grazing allows farmers to get their cows out to grass for a short period of time and this will be beneficial in terms of cost and grass quality.

Teagasc research shows that dairy cows are capable of eating 90% of their grass intake over a three hour period.

It also shows that there is no difference in the milk quality when cows are grazed using this method when compared to full-time grazing.

However, Comer said that a good paddock and roadway system is essential to make the best use of spring grass when operating on-off grazing.

“If you have not a good grazing system it is impossible to operate on-off grazing.”

The Teagasc Specialist also said that farmers should aim to spread 70 units of Nitrogen fertiliser by April 1.

This will make a big difference to grass growth later.

“Some farmers are only starting to spread fertiliser now and they will not see as much of a response as farmers who got fertiliser out two weeks ago,” he said.

Teagasc research shows that grass grows 15kg/ha for every unit of Nitrogen applied in March.

Comer also said that some farmers in the west have struggled to get slurry out on wet ground over the past couple of weeks, but the drying conditions are starting to make slurry spreading easier.

“I recommend that farmers spread fertiliser after cows graze, this will maintain the Phosphorous levels in the soil.”

Making the most of spring grass:
  • A good farm road and paddock layout system is very important to get the most from spring grass
  • When allocating grass, keep the sections as square as possible to minimise poaching damage.
  • Nitrogen should be spread on paddocks as soon as conditions allow.
  • Spread 75% of the farm with 23-35 units of nitrogen in the form of urea.
  • Aim to have 70 units of nitrogen applied by the 1st of April.
  • Phosphorus (P) is essential for early spring growth. Apply P as required –based on your soil results.