Farm Update May 2023
Breeding kick started on May 1st with 10 cows served on the first day of breeding. My goal is to have a 3 week submission rate of 90% which is vital for me to hit my target 6 week calving rate of 90% next spring. Compact calving is critical to me so I get the most out of all my cows as they will have a longer lactation leading to more milk and milk solids being produced off a grass based diet. I use tail paint on the cows and scratch cards on maiden heifers to pick up heats. I find heifers aren’t heavy enough compared to cows or have the same level of activity to knock off tail paint so I find scratch cards are ideal for them. Heifers will be AI’d once and are then put with an Angus stock bull. As my last calf to be sold went at the end of April all my attention can be focused on the breading season and grass quality for the cows. I recorded all heats I saw 3 weeks before breeding started and any cow not seen in heat in these weeks as well as not been served after the first week of breeding I will bring the vet to examine her and treat as necessary. In previous years I used to wait until 3 weeks of breeding had gone before bringing the vet to these cows but this year I have decided to change to try and improve my 6 week calving rate even more.
I have a 2 acre paddock sprayed off for reseeding and I will have this hopefully sown by the first week of May. The seed mix I will be using is a permeant grazing mix with all varieties coming from the pasture profit index recommended list. The mix is made up of 60% tetraploid grasses with 2 kgs of white clover from Drinagh co-op. I’m including 2 kg of clover in the mix so hopefully it will ensure that I will have sufficient clover content in the sward so I’ll be able to reduce my chemical nitrogen inputs for this paddock both reducing my fertiliser costs and reducing my carbon footprint of the overall farm.
Calves are as good as weaned at this stage and eating 2 kg of calf ration each. When the weather settles down I will be letting these out to grass. This will lighten the work load even more giving me more time focus on other jobs at hand.
Walking the farm
I did a farm walk on the 2nd of May and the average farm cover was 900 kg DM/ha but this is distorted by having to graze a couple of high covers that I had to graze as regrowth’s in other parts of the farm were slow. Current demand is 44 kg and a growth of 41 kg. Cows were going into covers of 1700 kg DM/ha, these high covers were border line for grazing but if I cut and baled these paddocks then I would have run of grass ahead of the cows with current growth rates so I took the hit on my milk solids and grazed them. Poor growth meant I had to graze one field of silage ground I was hoping to keep closed. I had it fertilised for grazing in case I ran short of grass and had to graze it as the original plan was to top dress it with fertiliser and close it up for silage. Average cow performance for March was 3.79% butterfat, 3.29% protein, SCC averaged 53,000 with all cows able to be milked into the bulk tank and TBC averaged 4. Thankfully SCC seems to be under control since the blip at the start of the season. Cows are being fed 5-6 kgs of a 15% protein ration from Dringh Co-op but I am planning on dropping this down to 3-4 kgs soon depending on grass availability. I am hoping that my milk solid percentages will increase with better quality grass as it’s the first week of May and hopefully heat will arrive and push on growth.
Silage ground is now fully closed with the paddock I had to graze fertilised for a silage crop now. I am following the cows with little over a bag of 18-6-12 after grazing. Any paddock with at least 20% clover will get little or no nitrogen over the summer. There is no point in putting in clover and not using it for its full potential by not cutting back the chemical N applications on it.
Farm Update April 2023
As calving is basically finished with one cow left to calf my attention has turned to the coming breeding season. I have gone through all the herd and I have selected cows for culling, cows that will get beef AI only and cows suitable for breeding my replacement heifers from. This year I have decided to use all sexed semen to get my replacement heifers. Using all sexed semen means I don’t have to use as much diary AI as the sexed straws are 90% female-bias and I can be more selective in which cows I pick to breed my replacements from ensuring I only breed off my best cows. Sexed semen also reduces the number of male dairy calves and allows for more beef AI on lower performing cows.
Based off Teagasc advice I will need 45 sexed straws to generate 20-21 heifer calves. Sire Advice on ICBF is a great tool for selecting both cows suitable for breeding in my herd and bulls that suit my criteria for my herd. In consultation with my Teagasc advisor we selected a team of 9 dairy AI bulls to use for the coming breeding season. The average EBI of the bull team selected is €368 with a milk sub index of €95 and a fertility sub index of €185. The main driver of the €95 milk sub index of the bulls picked is coming from milk solids production through percentages of fat and protein rather than through milk volume. I am putting a lot of emphasis on breeding for high value milk rather than just milk volume. Beef AI sires were selected on a number of different criteria such as DBI/CBV, easy calving, gestation length, carcass weight and conformation. The beef bull team have an average DBI value of €172 and are a mix of angus, hereford and aubrac bulls.
I am aiming to start breeding on May 1st. I started recording heats 3 weeks before starting breeding last year and I was very thankful to it so I am planning to do the same this year. Cows and heifers will be severed twice a days, 14 - 20 hrs after heat onset for sexed straws to natural heats. Any cow not served after the first 3 weeks of breeding I will bring the vet to check for any issues and treat as necessary.
I am happy with cow performance to date, cows averaged 3.41 % protein, 4.29 % fat and SCC averaged at 67,000 for the month of March. Thankfully SCC seems to be under control again since the blip at the start of the year. I completed my second milk recording at the end of March to make sure I stay on top of it. Cows are being fed 5 kgs of a 16% protein ration from Drinagh Co-op, 10 kgs of grass and 3 kgs of maize/ silage. Cows were put back on maize to try and keep energy levels up in their diet as I had to house cows at night due to the weather making ground conditions far from ideal. Cows are still able to go out by day and I am using on/ off grazing to prevent ground been damaged and poached. I am on target to finish the first round by the 9th April. I walked the farm on the 4th April and the average farm cover was 822 kg DM/ ha. I have a demand of 26 kgs and a growth of 21 kgs and with the weather not showing any signs of settling yet I will keep walking the farm so I don’t run out of grass. I will be switching to a 14% protein nut as soon as the weather settles and I get cows back out to grass day and night again.
As soon as the weather allows I have a 2 acre paddock picked for reseeding in April. This paddock will be reseeded with a Drinagh Co-op grass seed mix with at least 1kg of clover. Poor ground conditions meant that I am slightly behind on fertiliser so I will go with protected urea again when conditions allow. Protected urea is best suited for this kind of unsettled weather.
Farm Update March 2023
I have over 85% of the cows calved at this stage and thankfully all is going well so far. The vet has yet to be called to either a cow or calf. I have 17 replacement heifer calves and I am happy with this number. The average EBI of this group of dairy heifer calves is €260. Any cows left to calf are in-calf to beef sires. I dipped my toe in the water with using sexed semen in 2022 and I’m happy with the results. I would be confident with using more if not all sexed semen this year to breed my replacements.
The main benefits of using sexed semen for me is to reduce the number of dairy bull calves and to ensure I get heifer calves from my best cows to maximise genetic gain in the herd.
I have sold two batches of calves so far, a mix of 2-3 week old Frisian bulls, Angus bulls and Angus heifers in my local Skibbereen mart, so far I am happy with the prices.
Getting to grass
The cold hard but dry weather has made getting cows out to grass relatively easy and grass utilisation has been excellent. Cows are out at grass day and night and are getting 5 kgs of 16% dairy ration from Drinagh Co-op and had access to maize bales while in for milking. I pulled the maize bales out of the diet as I was going into heavy covers to ensure good graze outs. I plan to keep these bales, in case the weather breaks and I have to house cows again. I am on target to get 2/3 of the farm grazed by St Patrick’s Day but the cold weather has affected regrowth’s and they are not where I’d like them to be. I walked the farm on March 8th and the average farm cover was 863 kg DM / ha. I will continue to walk the farm to ensure I won’t run out of grass and I will start buffer feeding again if necessary. My yearling heifers where turned out to grass on the 21st of February on silage ground, this is a bit earlier than normal but with ground conditions so good I felt it was foolish to keep them inside. After the first week outside they cleaned up nicely and started to push on and thrive.
I completed my first milk recording on February 20th, I normally aim to have my first recoding done by end of February/ start of March but I went earlier as my bulk tank SCC was averaging 247,000. This is extremely high for my herd considering this time last year my bulk tank SCC was averaging 74,000. I strongly believe in having an early recording within 30 days of the first cow calving or at least within 60 days to check how the previous dry cow period went and this year it worked wonders. When I got my results back I had three cows with a SCC of over 1 million. I had checked all the milking cows for mastitis and could not find symptoms of it or any clots in the milk or even the milk filter, if I hadn’t completed a milk recording I wouldn’t have found the problem cows. I treated the three cows and now my bulk tank SCC is averaging 99,000. I have recorded the problem cow numbers to keep an eye on them going forward. Keeping records of these issues is import for picking cows for culling as well as when picked cows for selective dry cow therapy which neither of these cows got last year. I am aiming to do my second milk recoding in the end of March to keep on top of SCC.
Some paddocks didn’t get any fertiliser or slurry in February as there were a mixture of hilly, wetter, older pastures and that I didn’t think I’d get the full benefit of spreading fertiliser on them at the time. This ground will need a bag of protected urea per acre now. I am following the cows with half a bag of protected urea per acre at the moment. I will switch to spreading 18-6-12 on the paddocks that are low in P and K when magic day comes and growth starts to take off as there will be a demand for both P and K then.
Farm Update February 2023
I ordered my protected urea for the early part of the year from Drinagh Co-op at the start of February and it was delivered two days later. I had no issues in sourcing it so far and I am aiming to continue using it throughout the grazing season. Although it is expensive per tonne when worked back to cost per kg of nitrogen, it always works out cheaper as well as ticking all the boxes in reducing my farm emissions. Getting fertiliser spread in February is vital to kick start grass growth when conditions allow and in the correct paddocks. As the cost of chemical fertiliser is gone so expensive I see more and more farmers realising the true value of their slurry, the experts tell me every 1,000 gallons is worth €50. Slurry was spread on 30% of the grazing platform by my local contractor using his dribble bar tanker at rate of 2,000 gallons/acre in the first week of February as weather conditions, ground conditions and soil temperatures were good. Some paddocks won’t be spread with fertiliser until early – mid March as these are a mixture of hilly, wetter, older pastures and I don’t think I’ll get the full benefit of spreading fertiliser on these, as well as being dangerous to travel them. The paddocks that were suitable for fertiliser got half a bag of protected urea / acre in mid-February. I’m planning to spread 70 -75 kg N/ha between slurry and fertiliser across the grazing platform before the start of April. My Teagasc advisor said that to get the best response to these applications rates and to minimise leaching of N that it should be split into applying 1/3 in February and the remainder in March, when conditions allow.
Flexible Grazing Targets
The first cow calved on January 29th and cows went out to grass on the 1st February. I am aiming to have 30% of the farm grazed by the end of February, the next 30% grazed by Paddy’s day and the remainder grazed by the first week of April. This will depend on weather and ground conditions, meaning I’ll have to be somewhat flexible with my grazing targets. If ground conditions stay good in February it will make the job of getting cows out to grass a lot easier and straight forward and ensure that clean outs are spot on with minimal poaching. I walked the farm on the 8th February and the average farm cover was 1205 kg DM / ha. I am lucky to have this amount of grass as chatting to other local farmers generally average farm covers are well behind where they need to be for this time of year. With 85% of the herd calving in 6 weeks grass demand is high. This means I’ll have to keep walking the farm to keep grass in front of the cows as it is the cheapest feed for cows.
Grass Covers High
High grass covers are kept for late February as cows appetites increase resulting in better clean outs letting light down to the base of the grass plant to help regrowth’s and recovery. Weanlings will be turned out to grass on February 22nd. These will go straight to an out block used for silage production as I want to get it grazed off to get slurry spread on it, before I close it for silage. I try and spread slurry on the silage ground in the first half of March to give as much time as possible between spreading and silage cutting to ensure no excess potassium is brought back in the silage as this can lead to milk fever issues next spring in cows.
Farm Update January 2023
I am Peadar O’ Driscoll, Signpost and Carbery Monitor farmer. I am milking 70 cows in Church Cross Skibbereen, the home of our Olympic medal rowers. I supply milk to Drinagh Co-op which is then processed by Carbery. The farm is fragmented and consists of 46 ha with an overall farm stocking rate of 2.3 livestock units per hectare on a grazing platform of 30 ha. I sold 450 kg of milk solids per cow in 2022 to Drinagh Co-op. The herd is spring calving with 85% of the herd calving in 6 weeks with a calving interval of 368 days. The herds EBI is €144, the heifers that joined the herd in 2022 had EBI of €172. I rear all replacements on farm using the outside blocks of land which is also used for silage production.
I am currently in derogation but I have been taking soil samples on a regular basis before I was required to do so for derogation purposes. I get my derogation plan done each year by my Teagasc advisor, Patrick McCarthy.
I like to take the samples in late December or early January every time. This is because this is the longest time away from any slurry or fertiliser applications that could influence the results. I usually take the samples myself using a proper soil corer. My advisor tells me it is important that I get a full 100mm sample each time I push the corer down. This can be easier said than done on some of my land that has been reclaimed and has only a light cover of soil over shale. I zig zag across each paddock making sure to avoid taking a core on or near any dung pad or other feature that could affect the result.
Using the results
Once the results come back, I discuss them with my advisor and we work out a farm fertiliser plan. My priority is always to get the lime sorted out first as I know from experience that I get a better response to fertiliser on the fields that are at the correct ph. After that I target my P allowance onto the ground that needs it most. All of my slurry is coming from slatted tanks and most of it gets recycled back onto the silage ground that produced the slurry in the first place. Any extra slurry and soiled water I have goes on the low index fields that I can get it on to.
I intend to top seed some paddocks with clover next spring and then manage them to increase their clover contend. Part of this will be to increase the K fertiliser I will apply to them both in the form of bag fertiliser, soiled water and slurry while at the same time reducing the amount of bag nitrogen to 100 units or less per acre.
Cost of soil sampling
When I consider the total cost of fertiliser I use each year, the small cost of soil sampling becomes insignificant in comparison. It ensures I am making the best use of this expensive farm input and that I am targeting it to the places I will get the most benefit from.
Farm Update June 2022
Peadar O’Driscoll from Churchcross outside Skibbereen is a monitor farm in the Teagasc Carbery Joint Programme as well as being a SignPost farmer in the national SignPost programme. The focus of the joint programme is sustainable dairy production and demonstrating the key profit driven measures that farmers can implement to improve sustainability and reduce the impact on water quality.
Like many farms in West Cork, the farm of 46 hectares is fragmented. Peadar supplies Drinagh co-op with the milk produced from his 64 cows. He milks through a modern 12 unit parlour and has a grazing platform of 30 hectares. The overall stocking rate is 2.5 livestock units per hectare.
In 2021, Peadar sold 440 kg of milk solids per cow to the co-op. The herd is spring calving a current herd EBI of €127. The heifers that joined the herd in 2022 were €165 EBI. The farm rears all its own replacements using the outside blocks of land for both heifer rearing and silage. Peadar has a big focus on putting in good farm roadways on the farm to improve access to grazing paddocks throughout the year and make the farm easier to manage. He has also invested in the winter housing and milking facilities to a very high standard.
This year, Peadar started calving on the 31/01/22 and had a 6-week calving rate of 85%. He had a 21-day submission rate for the cows of 73% and 87% for the heifers. Cows which haven’t been seen bulling have been seen by his vet and coiled or have been ear marked for culling. Peadar plans to breed to AI for 11 weeks and to date has used a team of 11 Dairy bulls and over the next few weeks will change to a team of beef bulls.
Cows are milking well with a current performance of 1.91kgs MS/Cow with 2kgs meal. Cows are into covers of 1400kgs/ DM/Ha. Peadar is following the cows on grazing ground with 20 units of Nitrogen with sulphur. At present Peadar is pre-mowing paddocks with the aim to reduce workload with topping after grazing. 24 acres of first cut silage was made on the 27th May. 5 acres of surplus paddocks have been taken out for bales yielding seven bales per acre. These paddocks have also got 1,500 gallons of watery slurry.
Going forward, grazing clover swards is a key measure to reduce dependence on expensive chemical nitrogen. As a consequence, it reduces the carbon footprint and the production of nitrous oxide. Research has proven the benefits of using clover to reduce chemical nitrogen and has shown increased milk solid per hectare. The challenge for farmers is to firstly start reseeding with clover to establish it and then adapt to manage it correctly to realise the benefits on the farm. The aim would be to establish a sward with 30% clover and over a number of years to reseed or oversow all paddocks on the grazing platform. With this in mind, Peadar has re-seeded 2.5 acres with a mix of white clover and perennial ryegrass. He has sown 2kgs of Iona white clover per acre and he plans to develop the level of clover on his farm over the next number of years.
In the last month, Peadar has spread 20 tonnes of ground limestone on grazing paddocks. To date, Peadar has 60 tonnes of lime in accordance with his Nutrient Management Plan to improve the soil fertility of the farm.