Don’t underestimate spring grass growth potential

An extra profit of €250 or more per cow together with benefits for water and air quality is achievable on average Irish dairy farms when a sensible spring fertiliser and grazing plan is followed. This is according to Tom Murphy, dairy adviser, Teagasc.

On dairy farms, where cows can graze from early February, the grazed grass costs are about half that of quality silage and less than a third of the cost of dairy ration.

The Teagasc national farm survey showed that Irish dairy farmers grow about 10.5t dry matter (DM) of grass compared to 13.5t DM or more grown on Teagasc research farms.

Spring growth potential

According to Teagasc, too many dairy farmers underestimate the spring growth potential of grass, when fertiliser is applied correctly.

Numerous grass and grazing trials, at various Teagasc research centres, form the basis of Teagasc spring dairy grassland management recommendations.

Recent trials (Moorepark, 2013 to 2016) show that by following the grassland management blueprint, important gains can be achieved at farm level, such as:
  • Milk solids production (kg/ha) increased from 900 to 1,260;
  • Meal feeding reduction per cow;
  • Nitrogen (N) reduced by 35kg/ha;
  • N use efficiency increased from 24% to 40%.

These achievements will be significantly higher where clover forms part of the sward. It’s not as simple as more and earlier, though!

Applying excessive N can be detrimental for the environment as well as the pocket. Achieving the correct balance will deliver the best results for production and the environment.

Sometimes, fertiliser use far exceeds demand or does not allow for growth and grazing potentials, often leading to excessive cutting of surplus bales.

Typically, the first grazing rotation on the dairy farm extends from early February (from the start of spring calving) to early April. Most dairy farmers are well aware of the recommended spring grazing plan as well as the many benefits from achieving the recommended grazing targets.

However, spring grazing plans will fail on any farm that does not have an appropriate spring fertiliser plan to match it.