Grass growth up on 2016, but grazing conditions remain difficult

2017 has been quite a good year for grass growth, according to Teagasc’s Micheal O’Leary. The PastureBase Ireland administrator said: “Grass growth is currently running 1t/ha ahead of last year.”

Valued at 7c/kg of dry matter, this extra growth is worth €2,800 to the average 40ha dairy farm.

On average, Irish dairy farmers recording data on PastureBase have grown 12,810kg/ha of grass this year. This is up considerably on the 11,956kg/ha and 11,909kg/ha grown in the respective years of 2016 and 2015.

The biggest increase in grass growth, he said, was witnessed in the east of the country; growth is currently running 1.5t/ha ahead of 2016 levels in this region.

Image source: PastureBase Ireland

Despite this additional growth, grazing conditions continue to remain difficult on many farms across the country.

O’Leary said that wet weather has resulted in a slowdown in grass growth in recent weeks. In addition, soil temperatures are back by 1-1.5° when compared to the corresponding period in 2016.

“At the moment, growth rates are about 40-50kg of dry matter (DM) per day. They have tailed off dramatically over the past seven-to-10 days.

Image source: PastureBase Ireland

“Over this period, cows have eaten a lot of grass due to low dry-matter percentages. But, farmers still need to do their budgets and stretch out what grass they have left,” O’Leary said.

Some farms on the west coast have experienced a lot of rainfall; especially those in the counties of Clare, Galway, Limerick and Kerry.

“This has led to cows and stock having to be housed. Hopefully these farmers will be able to get out to grass again this week.

“Even if they could get stock out for a couple of hours and get grass back into the diet, it’s going to reduce costs. If they don’t, it’s going to be a long winter for those farmers.”

To maximise the use of grass at this time of year, good grazing infrastructure is absolutely critical.

Good roadways and access points will make it easier to carry out on-off grazing – a vital tool in maximising the proportion of grass in cows’ diets during difficult conditions.

The important role that grazing infrastructure plays was a key topic of discussion at Teagasc’s stand at the National Ploughing Championships last week.grass growth

Closing targets

Ideally, he said, farmers should aim for an average farm cover (AFC) of 1,000kg/ha if stocked at 2.5 cows per hectare. This increases to 1,100kg/ha for farms stocked at three cows per hectare.

O’Leary added: “It’s important to use the autumn planner to ensure you have enough grass for next spring – it’s absolutely critical.

“A lot of heavy farms will start closing paddocks this week and farmers operating on drier farms will be aiming for the first week of October. Rotation length should be 35-40 days at this stage, as the last round is starting.

“If you are not on that rotation length at the moment, you will probably need to go in with some other feed or reduce the stocking rate on your milking platform to stretch out your grass reserves on your farm.”