Grass growth: Heavy rain forces some farmers to house and feed silage

The good weather seems like a distant memory now as heavy and persistent rain has swept across the country – last week and now into this week.

The heavy rain has already led to significant flooding in some vulnerable areas along the Shannon Callows – covering counties: Roscommon; Westmeath; Offaly; Galway; and Tipperary.

The majority of soils have reached saturation point with moderately and poorly drained soils now waterlogged – making grazing conditions increasingly difficult.

These wet weather conditions are set to continue for this week along with a potential visit from ‘Hurricane Lorenzo’ – a powerful hurricane currently in the central Atlantic that is tracking northeastwards towards Ireland, according to Met Éireann.

Some farmers have already been forced to house animals and, if the rain doesn’t ease off soon, many more farmers will be forced to do the same.

Where this is the case, careful attention should be paid to house hygiene – to avoid mastitis.

Additionally, the best-quality silage available and 2-3kg of concentrates should be fed to help maintain milk production.

Although the rain is making grazing conditions difficult, it is important to remember the value of grass in the cow’s diet during this time of year.

According to Teagasc, every day grazing in the autumn period has the financial benefit of €1.80/cow. For a 100-cow herd, this is €180/day. So, trying to keep grass in the cow’s diet as much as possible is a must.

Poor weather grazing techniques:
  • Graze in 12-hour blocks using a strip wire and a back fence;
  • Use spur roadways;
  • Graze drier paddocks or paddocks with lower covers first;
  • Use on-off grazing – allow cows out for a few hours in the morning and in the evening;
  • Use good-grazing infrastructure to your advantage to avoid damage.

It is important to be flexible in your approach to grazing. Even allowing half the herd out by day to graze and the other half by night has its advantages.

Looking at grass growth, it is holding relatively well; however, cows are flying through ground due to the low dry matter in the grass.

In terms of average grass growth rates, PastureBase Ireland figures are showing 44kg DM/ha in Ulster, 54kg DM/ha in Leinster, 47kg DM/ha in Connacht and 51kg DM/ha in Munster.

Furthermore, it is time for farmers to start thinking about closing up paddocks for the winter – to ensure an adequate amount of grass is available for grazing next spring.

By now, the average farm cover (AFC) on farms stocked at 2.5 cows/ha should be between 1,000kg DM/ha and 1,100kg DM/ha and on farms stocked over three cows/ha, the AFC should be between 1,100kg DM/ha and 1,200kg DM/ha.

In terms of rotation length, at present, the cows should be on a 40-day round.