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Dairy Farm Management Notes: 16/03/2010

Dubious Grass Quality

John Donworth

Grass quality on dairy farms is in pretty poor shape. Never mind the fact that we have had no growth whatsoever, the quality of the material ahead of cows last week was moderate.

Material that was reseeded in the past few years is looking reasonably OK, but old perennial ryegrass swards are in very poor shape. Throw in the odd sward that hasn’t been reseeded in the past thirty years and you come up with a very poor picture of grass quality.

Very few farmers at discussion group meetings last week had cows out day and night. The vast majority were bringing cows in at four o’clock, giving them silage when they came in, and again after milking.

The cows were standing at the gate at 3 o’clock and had decided themselves on the amount of material they were removing from the grazing paddock. Needless to add, when those cows went out again the following morning, their appetites were not near as good as they should be and this fact alone is going to influence how they go about removing grass from paddocks and achieving the desired post grazing heights.

I found dairy farmers very slow to let cows out at night during the hard frosts of last week. Many of them made out it was too cold. While night time temperatures were cold, the weather was dry; there was no rain and no biting wind. Cows would have been perfectly OK outside, save the odd cow that just had a hard calving.

So, what’s the message here? If your farm has a number of acres of very dubious grass ahead of the cows, take the silage away from them, let them out at night. I am saying this regardless of the percentage of the farm grazed.

Grazing conditions were super for cows last week. You won’t get a better chance of cleaning out paddocks and having silage in the diet is the single greatest impediment to achieving this.

Paddocks not cleaned out in the first round will become a problem very early in the year. OK, you could say they will topped after the second grazing, but you have no guarantee that the weather will be suitable. And even if it was, you will be asking cows to eat a very mixed diet of green leaf still mixed with dead material in the second rotation.

In the current grazing conditions, I would try and get through as much of the poor quality pasture as possible. These paddocks won’t start to grow normally until the bulk of this dead or drying material is removed.

And, what about milk production and protein yield while you are on this dubious grass diet? As well as feeding the dubious grass, cows should get 6 kgs of ration per day. The problem here is we can only guess at the quality of the material on offer, so the advice would be to err on the cautious side. These cows will probably take in 9 to 10 kgs of grass dry matter in 24 hours. This leaves you with 5.5 kgs of concentrate dry matter coming from the concentrate.

Just a word of warning about the concentrate. Have a look at the label. The ingredients are in descending order i.e. the ingredient with the highest inclusion rate is at the top. Palm kernel should not be appearing in any ration fed to dairy cows at the moment. I know price can be an issue, but only purchase quality feeds.

Milk protein was seriously heading south last week. Some farms are already under 3 percent. Silage is doing us absolutely no favours here and if at all possible, it should be removed from the diet.

What about Nitrogen? A very difficult year so far for Nitrogen fertiliser. Any material that’s out 6 weeks presently is gone. It has grown very little grass. The Nitrogen has moved below the roots of the grass plant. It will not come back. Nitrogen spread 3 weeks ago, still has some time left to show a return. A large number of you have no Nitrogen out yet. This is a serious situation to be in. The forecast is for milder weather and you must act at this late stage.

I would be applying a bag of Urea at this stage. This is regardless of whether you went 6 weeks ago or haven’t gone yet. On farms where Nitrogen went out 3 weeks ago, I would reduce this to 35 units.

The grass plant badly needs a kick start at this stage. I would do a blanket spread of the farm, only missing out on the areas where the cows are going into in the next 4 to 5 days.