Grass advice: Nearing the end of the green stuff

North of the border most herds are now fully housed or on their last few days at grass.

With frosty mornings setting in, grass growth will soon be down to single figures. This greatly contrasts some southern/eastern farms that may be out full-time still.

At housing, farmers should ensure the closing cover target is met, with a minimum of 600kg of Dry Matter (DM) grass per hectare by the end of November.

If conditions underfoot deteriorated too fast and you didn’t getting all covers grazed off, leave that grass as it is. It may grow nothing until spring but it will accumulate dry matter.

Trying to graze this with other stock will probably damage soil too much and reduce grass grown next year.

Badly poached peaty soil March 16

Avoid overworking young stock

It is very easy to ‘over work’ youngstock at this time of year as we try to extend their final days at grass.

Be very careful here, with calves being fed well all year and split into groups on some farms to better target high energy feed to maximise growth rates, liveweight can be greatly checked when the animals are worked too hard on low/poor covers, even if it only for a week or so at the end of the season.

The colder weather means youngstock (and indeed cows), are spending more energy on body heat and less on growing, therefore an even higher level of nutrition is needed, not lower intakes.

Ideally calves/heifers should be offered some silage at grass to changeover their diet but this is rarely practical.

Instead, offer the calves the best quality bales (or pit silage) you have available when housed.

For below-target weight calves, if at all possible group these on their own as it will increase intakes and therefore weight gain.

It will also save you from feeding the whole group more meal than they require.

dairy calves

Identify your best quality silage

All silage pits or an average sample taken from a few bales should be sent away to identify best and poorest quality feed available and then target them to milk cows, dry cows or youngstock.

If you do not analyse the silage, it is impossible to know which feed suits which group.

Dry cows require adequate energy and preferably a fibrous silage (NDF greater than 50% or so).

However, for animals that have been dried off early because they are below target condition, they will require good quality silage for the next four-to-six weeks as you try and increase Body Condition Score (BCS).

very-good-pic-cows-eating-silage

Dosing

At housing it is important that animals are treated for liver fluke and rumen fluke (if presence has been identified in faeces).

The best way to see what level of fluke is present is through a faecal egg count.

This is done by collecting a small faecal sample from several cows representing an average in the herd, e.g. a few first, second, third and fourth calvers.

Mix samples and send a sample to your vet/local lab in a small milk recording bottle or similar – no need for a full bucket or bag.

Dairy heifers grazing

We sent a few empty heifers to the abattoir in October and asked vet to check the livers, there was evidence of fluke damage.

This would have been from last autumn as we were late to dose them – a poor and expensive management mishap.

This year, youngstock received a triclabendazole drench in early October and a recent faecal egg count showed a small amount of rumen fluke so they will have to be treated for this in a few weeks also.

The faecal egg count can also be used for identifying lungworm presence.

There is no point in giving under conditioned animals a prolonged dry period or high quality silage if they have a heavy liver fluke/rumen fluke burden.

Treat animals accordingly as quickly as you can to reduce body condition loss and production loss.

Grass grown in 2016

When all animals are housed, it is a good time to have a look at the total tonnage of grass grown in 2016, using your grass measuring program.

This is an excellent tool as it shows how different paddocks are (or are not) performing.

When we start calving in spring, we won’t have time to put a soil fertility plan together, we should identify now what paddocks are growing so when we soil test in December/January, we can create a plan for 2017 in relation to lime, P and K applications.

Poorer performing and top performing paddocks may require additional nutrients next year.

A huge issue is sub-optimal fertility in paddocks reseeded two-to-three years ago.

After bumper grass growth and lack of nutrient replenishment, their tonnage grown begins to decline.

By reducing or stopping this decline we will grow a lot more grass. Soil sampling can be carried out from six weeks after animals have been taken off the ground.

perennial ryegrass