My second-cut fields are deteriorating – what should I do?

Dairy farmers in different parts of the country have been weighing up options on what to do with paddocks that had been closed off for second-cut silage and are beginning to deteriorate – due to the current harsh drought conditions.

In parts of the midlands and south, farmers are already taking out second-cut silage early as grass covers start to decrease.

To help farmers determine best options, AgriLand asked Dr. Michael Egan of Teagasc earlier this week what options are on the table and whether going in on silage before it’s ready is really the best decision.

Grazing

Dr. Egan, a grassland expert based in Teagasc Moorepark, stressed that grazing should be one’s first option under such circumstances, if not too strong.

Elaborating, he said: “If you’re already in a situation where you don’t have enough grass and you’re feeding meal and/or silage, is there a chance to be able to graze that second-cut crop – if it’s not an excessively high yield?

“What we’d be saying is 2.2t to 2.5t [per hectare] – if it’s not above that 2.2-2.5t can you still graze it?”

Dr. Egan explained that this would save on the ensiling costs and save on some of the silage that farmers are feeding that they’ve already conserved.

The Teagasc research officer added that – if it’s away from the yard, and it’s not an exceptionally high crop, and you can’t walk cows out to graze it – the option of zero-grazing some of that grass back could be best.

“Grazing would be the first option; but, if it’s stronger than that and from 2.5t/ha up to 3t/ha, is it still growing?”

Growing

Under such conditions, Dr. Egan advised: “First of all we’d say to go out and yield it – and also yield it in a couple of days’ time, and ensure that it’s not going backwards.

“And, if it’s still growing, leave it there to continue growing – because as soon as it’s cut, you’re not going to get any grass coming back on it until you do get rain.

“If you’re in a situation that your grass – you assume – is going backwards, measure it first to ensure that it is going backwards and that it’s not actually growing.

You can only know that if you go out and yield it, and measure it for the next week or 10 days to ensure that it is growing.

“Dry matter is exceptionally high; dry matter [Monday] morning here in Moorepark was probably 22 or 23%.”

As a results, Dr. Egan stressed that farmers need to estimate yield to know what they have.

If it’s still growing, I’d say leave it – leave it to grow.

“If it continues to grow, leave it to grow until it reaches the point, but keep monitoring yields on it, and if you do measure and yields are actually reducing on it, and you can’t graze it, then it probably is a good decision to go in and take it out. But only as a last resort if it can’t be grazed first.”

Cutting

Recapping, Dr. Egan explained: “So, if it’s below 2.2 -2.5t, go in and graze it, if you’re in a position to be able to graze it, especially if you’re already feeding silage that you’ve conserved.

There’s no point in making more silage of a low yield if you’re actually feeding silage that you’ve already made.

“So, first of all, graze it if you can; secondly, keep measuring it and ensure that it’s actually going backwards. Then, if you find when you’re measuring it and monitoring it and it starts reducing, then you’re probably best to go in and remove it at that stage.”

Dr. Egan stressed that taking ground out for silage wouldn’t be the first thing to do; he reiterated: “If you cut it the yield is going to be very, very low and it is going to be expensive to make it as a low yield, so I’d say there’s other things that you can do first.

“And then, if it’s going backwards, go in and take it out.

You definitely don’t want it going backwards – but make sure that it is going backwards before you actually take it out.