Getting dairy farmers back to the day-to-day skills of grazing management is the key to getting tangible improvement for Lakeland Dairies milk suppliers, according to Andrew McNamee of the Lakeland/Teagasc Joint advisory programme.

Over the last two years, the four advisors in this programme delivered workshops on financial planning for expansion, pasture improvement, and increasing herd EBI. But Andrew maintains that having ‘boots-on-the-ground’ is now important to drive implementation of these messages, particularly among more cautious dairy farmers.

“We have talked a lot at meetings about the benefits of early grass in the diet- solids, feed costs, workload- but it’s all for nothing unless a guy picks up a fence reel, sets out a paddock and turns cows out for a few hours grazing,” says Andrew.

“Like many parts of the country, there’s mixed opinion here on the idea of early grazing. Some dairy farmers have already bought into it – they are fine; some will not entertain the idea – they have their own reasons, and some are willing to give it a go but need practical help to get things moving. We have prioritized this group because we feel time here will be time well-spent.”

Andrew is currently working his way through farm visits with 70 such suppliers in the Cavan-Monaghan area.

The aim is to hit three dairy farms a day, spending no more than 90 minutes per visit’ explains Andrew.

“The only items on the agenda are grass management, fertilizer and bull selection. I help the farmer to calculate the daily grass allocations, assess post-grazing and poaching, and also set out areas to be grazed in the next two weeks. Next I will set out a simple fertiliser plan for the next month, and finally I will set out some criteria for bulls to be used this year, based on EBI.”

According to Andrew, the main issues cropping up on these farms are that there is not enough early Nitrogen is top of the list.

“Some still had not applied any Nitrogen in early March – the same fellows are usually worried about running out of grass. Lack of roadways to make grazing access easier and reduce poaching is another issue. In a wet spring like this it’s tempting to just close the shed door behind the cows in the morning and wait a few weeks – farms that have invested in infrastructure are more likely to move on grazing in marginal conditions.”

However, he said progress is being made on spring grazing. “The most important thing is that more and more ‘middle-ground’ farmers are giving it a go- the tricks of the trade will come later. Our message is make mistakes but make progress.

“Driving around Monaghan this week I spotted a nice few client herds out for morning grazing behind a strip wire. It’s a start, and once you get a start the rest is inevitable.”