No rain for 35 days: ‘Growth rates are worse than winter’

As the drought continues and grass available for grazing becomes increasingly scarce, well-known Mitchelstown dairy farmer, Maurice Walsh, laments that growth rates on his farm are “worse than the month of January”.

Having reached his 35th day without rain, Walsh – who previously starred on hit RTE television show ‘Farmer in Charge’ – fears the tables won’t turn until August.

Speaking to AgriLand, the chairperson of the north and east Cork branch of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) said: “Farmers are currently feeding their winter fodder for 2019. The place is like the Sahara Desert at the moment.”

Image source: RTE One Twitter page

Walsh, who is grass measuring on his home farm, says in some fields growth rates are zero.

“I grazed a paddock 40 days ago and applied nitrogen and slurry to it; I walked it this morning and there still has been no growth on it.

My father, who is in his 80s, has never witnessed weather like this in all his life.

“The only differences between now and last January are that: the weather is warmer; cows are more content; and the ground is dry,” he said.

The RTE star is strip-grazing some of the last of his available grass at the moment. He admitted: “The ground is so dry that I need a lump hammer to get the stakes into the ground.”

Buffer feeding

Walsh says farmers are feeding silage not by choice – but to keep their animals alive.

He added that his cows are eating approximately 17kg/DM/day and over half of this intake (approximately 8.5kg) is coming from concentrates being fed in the parlour.

The rest of their daily feed requirement is coming from available silage left in ring feeders on bare paddocks.

“They are eating only about 1-2kg of grass because the grass simply is not there,” said Walsh, who reduced his stocking rate by 10% – from 100 cows to 90 cows – last winter.

Although the situation is severe, Walsh said that his cows are enjoying the sun and are happy once they are being buffer-fed and have ample access to drinking water.

Second cut

The ICMSA chair says growth rates are at a standstill on his second-cut crop.

The current situation is only the tip of the iceberg. We have not even begun to think about next spring yet.

He remarked that even the weeds are dying from the drought.

“In the last 10 days grass has really ceased; it was growing with a struggle before then,” he said.

Help needed

Walsh outlined that farmers are “really pulling their hair out”.

The ICMSA chair is urging all co-ops to support their dairy farmers – mentally and financially – until the situation eases.

“Something will have to give. The Government will also have to develop a national contingency plan to support farmers in crisis situations caused by extraordinary weather events,” he concluded.