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Dealing with wet conditions on beef farms

The spring and early summer months brought near drought conditions for much of the country. Since mid-June there has been a significant amount of rain especially in some southern, northern and western areas. Drystock specialist Alan Dillon has some advice if your farm is impacted

Met Eireann rainfall data shows rainfall levels for Athenry and Shannon being 62ml and 42 ml over the 3 year average respectively and what must be taken into account is the dry summer conditions of 2018 is included in this 3 year average. While farmers on drier more free draining soil are still managing relatively ok, those on soils of a heavier nature are starting to see significant levels of poaching occurring and are unable to harvest second cut silage without tracking fields. In some areas of North West, sucklers have been housed temporarily to relieve pressure on land. Up to 50 ml of rain is forecast for some western counties this week so the situation will likely deteriorate further.

If a farmer finds themself in this situation where land is becoming saturated and no sign of a dry spell is coming to relieve the situation a number of options must be looked at.

  1. Housing remaining autumn/winter calving cows and calves and weaning calves indoors. It may be a simpler option to wean indoors as you have more control over stock and can manage the weaning process with less stress on man and beast. Meal should be introduced to calves for a number of weeks prior to weaning. Ensure when weaning calves that all conditions for BEEP-S and BDGP are adhered to. Calves can be turned back out to grass at this stage once weaned while cows can remain indoors until weather improves on moderate quality forage. If the situation persists with high rainfall, spring calvers could be housed for a period with heavier calves weaned. Again farmers must ensure they meet all scheme requirements and also monitor calves for pneumonia outbreaks if housed in wet, warm conditions.
  2. House forward stores for finishing. Steers approaching 500- 550kg or heifers approaching 450-500kg depending on breed could be housed also if conditions become wet underfoot. Thrive levels will fall back on grass at this time of year naturally anyway as dry matter tends to drop. With incessant rainfall unsettling heavy stock and dry matter intakes dropping, housing these cattle and starting them on a finishing diet of silage and 4-5 kg of a finishing ration would be beneficial. It will give higher levels of thrive, increase fat cover faster and lead to a quicker kill in the winter. If these cattle remain at grass meal will be needed in any case to achieve a satisfactory fat cover. Bulls intended for killing by year end or early next year should be housed already and have begun on their 120-150 day finishing diet. Housing these heavier cattle will leave more grass available for lighter cattle who can utilise grass and do less ground damage.
  3. Finishing 30 month steers and heifers. Many farmers have steers and heifers at grass approaching 30 months currently. Feeding these on with 4-5 kg of a finishing ration will be beneficial to move them for slaughter faster. Again like the store cattle previously mentioned, thrive at grass will drop from now on with wet weather exasperating the situation and meal fed now to speed up the process of fattening these cattle will be well spent. Farmers need to start watching age of these stock also as cattle born in early February 2018 will be hitting 30 months soon. The penalty for these 30-36 month stock is the Quality Assurance payment reducing from 20 cent per kg down to 8 cent per kg.
  4. Meal should be in the diet of dairy bred calves again, especially later born calves at grass. With dry matter dropping in grass, they may not have high enough intakes to meet nutritional requirements therefore even 1kg per head of a 16% protein ration or pellet would be beneficial.
  5. Harvesting second cut silage is becoming tricky especially on heavier fields with some cases of water lodging on crops. Farmers need to monitor the situation closely with these crops as if weather doesn’t improve significantly, these fields may not dry out enough to harvest before year end. These fields should be walked regularly and if conditions allow the crops should be harvested immediately. The crops should be tedded after mowing and either baled or pitted before more rain arrives. These crops will be deteriorating in quality due to the length of time they are growing and also due to water lodging at the base of the sward.