COMMENT: What a difference a week makes. Farms last week were growing between 40-60kgs/ha/day, whereas this week we are dropping to 20-40kgs/ha/day, owing to lower soil temperatures.

Farms that began closing at the beginning of October should now have almost 45 per cent of the grazing platform closed, (15 per cent per week). Autumn calving herds will close more than 60 per cent of the farm in October as they have a very high demand in spring.

Up North, three days rain have already lead to a change in ground conditions and paddocks with a heavy soil type are being grazed before conditions deteriorate further. Reseeded fields should be closed towards the end of the grazing season so they can tiller over the winter, however earlier grazing will be required where the soil type is heavy clay. Damaging a reseed is an extremely costly mistake; leading to compaction, low production in subsequent years and an increased infestation of weed grasses!

As the AFC will now be dropping on a weekly basis, it is imperative that we have our target closing AFC set for mid-late November (housing date). From our closing date, we can see on a weekly basis how quickly the AFC is falling.

Prioritise the animals in need of grass and house the remainder when grass supply dictates. I.e. in calf heifers that are above target weight will not benefit from autumn grass as much as milking animals/small heifers/calves. Autumn grass is typically lower in dry matter (DM) than mid season grass but energy value is good (11-11.5MJ ME/kgDM).

Body condition must be monitored now. Cows and heifers are more efficient at putting on body condition when they are lactating, therefore once a day milking will be beneficial to cows/heifers that are below 2.8 (body condition score) as they need more energy diverted towards conditioning than towards milk output.

All heifers require 12 weeks dry period, as they are still growing. A heifers energy demand for growing is greater than the energy they require for milk output at this time of the year. Feb calving heifers must be dried off at the beginning of November (earlier if body condition is very low, feed quality during dry period must be good – high energy, low protein).

Scanning performance: results have been very good this year on the majority of farms. Scanning results indicate how much feed is required in spring as well as how intense calving will be (labour demands). Do not sacrifice more grazing in autumn at the cost of less available feed in spring. On high stocked farms and on farms that did not manage to conserve enough winter feed, empties must be sold now, price is below average but cost of keeping these will be high and winter feed is not available for them.

By Cathal Mc Aleer, consultant with Grasstec Dairy Solutions which provides a dairy consultancy, farm infrastructure design and livestock sale service in Ireland and UK. Cathal can be contacted on +44 (0)77495 31679 or [email protected]