Managing your farm through the drought

During this drought period, walk your farm, assess your own situation and take decisions. Graze a maximum of 4% of your farm per day to hold rotation length at 25 days. It is crucial that grass supply on farms is “stretched” to keep grass in the diet of the animal.

If you need more than 4% per day to supply feed requirements you need to supplement with concentrate feeds, and/or hay/silage. Every farm should be grazing to 4cm. Avoid topping as it’s wasting feed and will also inhibit regrowth.

Graze strong paddocks at <2,500kg DM/ha, and do not remove as surplus bales. Graze with a strip wire and back fence. It may be necessary to graze areas meant for second-cut silage.

On out-farms where grass is closed for silage, either graze, or harvest as silage. Do not allow grass to burn back into the ground.

Order concentrate feeds well in advance of needing supplies as delivery may be slowed due to demand. Ensure stock always have access to a clean supply of water. Monitor supplies daily.

Fertiliser recommendations

Fertiliser nitrogen (N) and organic manure – N, phosphorous (P), potassium (K), sulphur (S) – applications should be tailored to the current growth rate of the grass swards under the dry soil conditions. Where re-growths are poor or non-existent, stop spreading fertiliser. Have fertiliser bought for spreading as soon as rain comes.

Where possible, use a compound N-P-K or N-K fertiliser as the K will help grass to be more resilient to drought conditions and to improve N uptake and growth.

If soil moisture deficit (SMD) is greater than 50mm and grass growth rates fall to less than 50kg DM/ha/day, reduce fertiliser N applications in line with demand and top up with additional N once sufficient rain arrives.

If SMD is greater than 75 (severe drought) and grass growth is much less than 50kg DM/ha, hold off further N applications until sufficient rain arrives or further rain is forecast.

Advice for beef farmers

Suckler cows and calves

Wean autumn-born calves and restrict cows. Prioritise feeding for spring-calved cows and heifers that are still with the bull. Those already in calf can be restricted slightly.

Supplement with silage or hay to ensure no more than 4% of the grazing area is grazed per day. High fibre concentrates may have to be considered at a later stage.

Use baled silage, as it can be open from day one of baling. Do not open pit silage within three weeks of ensiling and ideally avoid feeding pit silage. If pit silage is fed, always ensure the pit is sealed correctly when the feeding period finishes. Cull unproductive cows to reduce demand.

Other beef cattle

Supplement yearlings and store cattle with grass silage or hay to maintain a 25-day rotation. If necessary, supplement with concentrates to reduce overall forage levels used per week.

Feed heavier animals that are within 40-50 days of finish, with over 5kg of meal at grass. Introduce meal over eight to 10 days to reduce the risk of stomach issues.

On the latest episode of The Beef Edge podcast, John Maher, Teagasc Grass10 campaign manager, discusses actions farmers need to take with current drought conditions on farms. To listen to the podcast just click here

In this short clip (below), hear from suckler-to-beef farmer Sean Roddy from Kildare who has had to make a lot of decisions to hold grass on his farm due to poor grass growth from high SMDs.

Actions for sheep farms short of grass

Consider weaning lambs immediately on sheep farms that are short of grass. Draft lambs, at weaning time, down to 18kg carcass to reduce feed demand. Lambs would need to be 36-38kg liveweight with adequate cover.

Supplement lambs with concentrates ad-lib where grass supply is below seven days ahead. Consider reducing to 500g/day for lighter lambs as covers exceed 10 days ahead. Create a finishing group made up of lambs 34kg upwards, for preferential concentrate supplementation on all farms experiencing grass shortages.

Where available, supplement weaned ewes with hay or silage on restricted area to allow grass cover to build up. Cull unproductive ewes. Supplement until covers have increased to provide 15+ days grazing ahead with favourable growing conditions.

In this short clip (below), Michael Gottstein runs through some pointers on dealing with a grass shortage on sheep farms.

Supplementation on dairy farms

Where grass is in deficit, a dairy farmer should feed concentrates first, up to 6kg/head/day. Farms are using the following strategy to reduce demand for grass: one-third diet concentrates; one-third diet silage; one-third diet grass.

If silage reserves are very low on a farm, a feed like palm kernel, soya hulls, beet pulp etc. or a three-way mix can also aid in supplementing the feed deficit.

At least 50% of the diet must be grass and/or silage to avoid acidosis. Where higher levels (above 7kg) of concentrate are being fed, a regime of feeding three times a day needs to be implemented.

In this short clip (below), Barry O’Sullivan from Co. Meath gives an overview of his farm and farming system.

Barry has made decisions quickly to hold average farm cover (AFC) above 500kg DM/ha. This has actually increased growth on the farm since the video was made. Holding AFC will keep more grass in the second–third leaf phase – maximising growth rates as a result.

Advice for tillage farmers

Drought conditions are becoming severe in most crops in the eastern side of the country. Crop potential has been severely restricted. Assess each crop for yield potential before committing to additional inputs.

Research tells us there is a poor return from fungicides in low disease pressure years. Where some yield potential remains, disease pressure is very low, therefore very reduced fungicide rates will suffice.

Straw quantities will be much lower this year so ensure your regular customers’ needs are met first.

The Tillage Edge this week covered the current drought effects on spring barley and the final crop management decisions to be made. Joining Michael Hennessy was Eoin Lyons, Teagasc Boortmalt Joint Program advisor, who told Michael that there is quite a difference in crops across the south-east region where he works.

To listen to the podcast just click here

Finally…watch your cash-flow

Take action now to address cash-flow problems. Fertiliser will give a significant return on investment when the rain does come.

Contact your advisor or accountant to help complete a cash-flow budget and a more detailed monthly plan, if required. Your accountant can give you advice relating to your tax liability for 2019/2020; good planning could reduce this exposure.

For more information visit: www.teagasc.ie/drought.