August is a good month to sort out deficits in grazing infrastructure to optimise days at grass, if your capital expenditure budgets allow. Helpful solutions include spur roadways, multiple access points to paddocks and back fencing.
When it comes to grazing infrastructure on farms, there is usually a list the length of your arm that needs time and money to complete. But the reality is, if you don’t make time for that list now, when will you? Apart from holidays, this time of year is generally quieter and dry conditions make it ideal for tackling infrastructure on your farm.
The reason you should aim to have excellent grazing infrastructure is that it enables you to keep livestock out grazing for a lot longer in the autumn and spring. Every day at grass in the Autumn for 100 LU (livestock units), earns you €200 per day. This figure comes from the difference in feed costs and extra animal performance from grass. So it is an expensive toll to pay for not having the right infrastructure in place.
Excellent grazing infrastructure is when a farmer and their livestock can move easily from paddock to paddock or paddock to farmyard without difficulty. This usually requires all paddocks to have multiple access points onto a roadway. This access can be to a central farm roadway or a smaller spur roadway, but either way it is a smooth hard surface capable of withstanding animal traffic during difficult weather conditions. Pigtails and reels are essential to set up stripwires. These allow stock graze a portion of a paddock for a short period (12hrs) to avoid poaching. Ideally these sections will still having access to a roadway without going back over area already grazed. Repositioning water troughs may also be necessary to facilitate this.
The paddocks closest to the farmyard are usually well equipped. It is the paddocks further away, awkwardly shaped, wetter, silage ground, etc., that are usually less equipped to enable an extended grazing season. Start with the low hanging fruit that give you the best bang for your buck, after all it is an investment which will pay you back. Remember you’ll never meet another farmer that regretted putting in a roadway!
Extra grazing days in the autumn are achieved by building grass cover during August. Extra days at grass will result in less silage in the diet reducing methane emissions; less slurry management required and improved efficiency.
Key tips for building grass in Autumn:
- Establishing stocking rate and what targets you need to hit;
- Aiming to extend rotation from the 10th August;
- Avoid making surplus bales beyond early August to allow sufficient regrowth of grass for Autumn build-up;
- Control demand by introducing supplement or reducing stocking rate;
- Apply protected N + K protected, in line with your NMP
Autumn Covers - Lets Talk Dairy Webinar (50 minute duration)
To build Autumn grass, spread 20-25 kg N / ha using protected urea in the last 2 weeks of August when you get the best response in grass growth. Matching N application to grass growth optimises the efficiency of N and reduces GHG emissions.
Every effort should be made to apply nitrogen (N) where required sooner rather than later. As we move from August to September to October the response to applied fertiliser N will decline.
Late Season N Response Studies
Fertiliser N studies conducted over the last 3 years at four sites in Wexford, Cork, Louth and Mayo within the Agricultural Catchments show the average response to per kilo of N applied during August, September and October were 27kg, 19kg and 10kg respectively (figure 1).
Response to applied late N fertiliser
- Average grass growth in August was 27kg DM per kilo of N applied. Grass dry matter yield response to applied N reduces by 30% in September and 63% in October.
- Currently N costs €1/kg. The N cost for growing a kg of grass DM in August and early September is 3 to 5 cent per kilo. Grass grown from N fertiliser applied in later September costs approximately 10c per kilo.
- Earlier applied N results in greater grass growth and more efficient use of each kilo of N.
- Apply cattle slurry to meet grass fertiliser demands and empty slurry tanks before winter.
- Apply 30 kg N/ha on grazing ground to build grass covers.
- Where grass will be cut for silage apply 60kgN /ha depending on grass yield potential.
Empty your slurry tanks empty. Managing your slurry over the winter to be able to spread the slurry when you will get the maximum value from it in Spring starts now.
In an environment, where chemical fertilisers are expensive and where their use is going to be subject to increased regulation, farmers must use slurry as the Number 1 source of nutrients on the farm. Only then should you top up with chemical fertiliser to meet your crop requirements.
Spreading slurry in mid-January when there is no grass growth and soil temperatures are very low is a waste of nutrients. The correct time of the year to spread slurry is when grass is actually growing. For most soils this is when soil temperature is greater than 5-6o Celsius. For dry soils, this could be late January in a warm dry spring. For heavy or peat soils, this could be early to mid-March.
Emptying your tanks now will reduce the risk of storage issues over the winter, allowing you to optimise the value of this nutrient in Spring.
If feeding ration with grass only - feed maximum 14% CP. Less excess protein in the diet means less N excreted and less GHG emissions. The protein content of Autumn grass is high, greater than 20%. The requirements of mid/late lactation animals or finishing animals for protein is met by grass only. Energy is the most limiting nutrient in this type of grass, supplement with energy and low protein.
Check milk recording and bulk milk health screening reports or faecal egg count reports for issues that need to be resolved. Healthy animals means increased animal performance, reduced replacement rate and fewer non-milking animals, reducing GHG emissions per kg of milk produced.
These reports provide valuable information on your herd and are an important decision support tool for making health decisions on your farm.