Save €581/week by keeping the cows at grass

Dairy farmers should use every opportunity to keep grass into the milking cows for as long as possible this autumn instead of going early to feed silage.

This was the advice for farmers at a Lakeland Dairies / Teagasc joint-programme autumn grassland walk on the farm of Patrick O’Neill in Co. Longford last week.

“It is crucial to keep the cows at grass for as long as your possibly can,” Owen McPartland of the joint programme said.

“If you’re looking at it from a money point-of-view, feeding 4kg of silage versus 4kg of grass that equates to €83 per day, or €581 per week, on a 100-cow herd.

“It adds up over a few weeks – keep grass in the diet for as long as possible,” he said.

The calculations are based on reduced solids and reduced litres over the 100 cows, as well as increased feed costs.

Based on Teagasc figures, silage is between two and two and half times more expensive than grazing.

McPartland, as well as Adrian McKeague from Lakeland Dairies, offered advice on how to manage grass and ground conditions into the autumn including back-fencing, making smaller paddocks to allow for three-hour grazing blocks during the day and limiting damage at the gaps by having multiple entry and exit points for cows heading to and from the parlour.

They also stressed the importance of setting out a grazing plan for the final rotation, to leave the farm set up for early turnout in the spring.

Farmer profile

Patrick O’Neill returned from the building trade in New Zealand and went into partnership with his father in 2012.

Since then Patrick has more than doubled the herd to stand at nearly 100 cows now supplying milk to Lakeland Dairies.

The cow type is a Friesian. The farm is 48ha of good-quality, free-draining soil.

The herd is on track to produce 420kg of milk solids (kg of MS) per cow from just under 600kg of meal fed.

Patrick is a strong proponent of reseeding and has reseeded some 18ac this year; three acres in May which has been grazed four times since then and 15ac on August 29.

Patrick’s breeding season sees the cows are served Friesian for six weeks with three weeks of beef straws after this.

Similarly, for the heifers, Patrick AIs for four weeks and then an Angus bull mops up after that.

Of the 94 cows in the herd, 89 are in calf while 22 out the 28 heifers are scanned in-calf.

“I’m very happy with the scanning results on the cows, but a bit disappointed on the heifers.

“They’re cycling fine, but there’s a few that didn’t go in calf. The last calf should land on April 15, 2020…we don’t like the calving season clashing with the breeding season.

“When picking bulls, we look for high Economic Breeding Index (EBI) number one, fertility is number two and, third, is percentage solids,” Patrick said adding that he has yet to decide to put the heifers in calf and sell them to an autumn-calving herd of finish them as beef.

Patrick generally houses the cows by night in mid-October with the cows in full-time by the middle of November.

Patrick farms with his parents Thomas and Bernadette, as well as his wife Michelle and his two sons Paídí (two and a half) and Seán (four months).