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Nutrition

Efficient pasture-based dairy farming is a balance between managing the pasture for maximum yield and managing the cow to maximize milk solids, production and reproduction. The Irish climate, while temperate, is highly seasonal. Grass growth follows a similar seasonal pattern with peak growth occurring in early summer.

Teagasc has developed a number of tools for use by farmers to manage grass quality and yield throughout the grazing season.

These tools are:

Assessing  grass visually takes experience. The following PDF contains pictures of different stages of grass cover normally available for dairy cows (Taken from Teagasc Dairy Manual page 304):

Dairy farmers currently use 7.5 t DM/ha (NFS) during a 210 day grazing season on a milking platform stocked at 1.8 livestock units (LU)/ha. To calculate the tonnage of grass utilised on your farm last year, complete the following calculator:

Additional reading about grass nutrition content is available at:

As farmers aim to produce more milk from the grazing platform in the future, pasture growth will be the first factor that limits productivity. Most farms have the capacity to grow more grass and every effort should be made to adopt grazing management practices that ensure high annual grass DM production. Investing in soil fertility improvement and increasing sward perennial ryegrass content will yield financial rewards in the coming years.

Reseeding

Only seven per cent of the land area on specialist dairy farms in Ireland is reseeded annually. Recent research has demonstrated that increasing the proportion of the farm reseeded increases total and seasonal DM production. When accompanied by an increased stocking rate, it led to increased herbage utilisation and has positive effect on profitability. The greatest gain in yield is achieved when a new sward replaces a less productive grass sward. Further information on reseeding is available in following publications:

A list of recommended varieties of grass and clover is presented in the following publication:

Soil fertility

In recent years, soil fertility has not received adequate attention on grassland farms. A summary of the latest trends in soil pH, phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) levels from soil sample analysis for all farm types is available in Soil-Fertility-Atlas (PDF, 11MB) booklet.

The Teagasc Dairy Manual; Chapter 20 has further Information about soil fertility and nutrient management: 

Fertiliser costs have increased: yet high grass growth rates can be achieved profitably with proper soil nutrient management. Soil pH affects the availability and uptake of both major and trace elements by grass. The ideal pH for grass is 6.3; this level allows maximum grass growth, nitrogen (N) release and availability. Liming increases the soil pH and stimulates the release of N from soil organic matter. It may also increase N supply through increased growth of white clover. Applying lime to increase the soil pH will increase nutrient uptake and DM yield and improve the long-term persistency of perennial ryegrass and clover in the sward.

Liming Grassland Soils

Liming of grassland should be done at least every 5 years. For reseeding pastures, best results are achieved by spreading lime at the time of reseeding, when the lime can be well worked into the soil. More about the Liming grassland soils, soil and soil fertility section.


Further and more detailed information is available at Teagasc Soil Analysis website:

Different Fertiliser recommendations for pasture and silage crop

Further information on fertiliser types N, P and K  can be accessed on the Soil section.

Land Drainage -  A farmer's practical guide to land drainage in Ireland

Teagasc Manual on Drainage and Soil Management

Winter forage will invariably be required on dairy farms to supplement dairy cattle when grass growth rate declines in early winter. The early planning of the winter feed budget is a key component in estimating the quantity of winter forage required on the individual farm.

A fodder budgeting worksheet is available to help calculate your winter forage requirement:

Other useful documents:

Guideline supplementary feeding levels for varying quality silages are found at Chapter 34 in Teagasc Dairy Manual:

The principles of managing your grass are explained in Chapter 37 of Teagasc Dairy Manual:

Forage crops

Forage crops grazed in situ provide an option for some farmers on dry land to reduce winter feed costs. Yield and efficient utilisation will have a major impact on any potential cost saving with these crops. Issues to consider include variability in yield, quality and cross compliance.

Give the low yields of rape, min-till or no-till options may be more cost effective than ploughing:

Supplementation of the dairy cow may become necessary when:

  • Forage quality is sub-optimal and supplements are used to correct the situation;
  • Forage quantity is deficient and supplements are being used to correct the deficiency.

The profitability of feeding supplement depends on the milk response per unit of supplement and the cost of the supplement compared to the milk price.

The milk yield response depends on the cow’s genetic merit for milk production and it tends to decrease when the cow is well fed on pasture.

The Teagasc Dairy Manual  FeedingDiaryCow  (PDF Format), (523KB), Chapter 34 focuses on nutrition guidelines for the dairy cow at different stages in the lactation cycle.

FeedingDiaryCowConcentrate  (PDF Format), (621KB), Chapter 35 details the different types of supplement for feeding the dairy cow.

High energy feedstuffs can be classified as either forages or supplements:

 Guidelines on feeding sugar beet to dairy cow.