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Getting grass in the diet a priority on dairy farms

Getting grass in the diet a priority on dairy farms

With the breeding season fast approaching and early-calving cows on the cusp of peak milk production, dairy farmers have been reminded to make getting grass into the diet of their cows a priority.

This message came from Dr Joe Patton, Teagasc Head of Dairy Knowledge Transfer, who addressed the National Fodder and Food Security Committee on March 29.

Although conditions are challenging at present, Joe told the online meeting that things can change very quickly and two dry days will make a big difference when it comes to alleviating the pressures being experienced at farm level in terms of getting cows out to grass.

“Grass supplies are above normal, with an average farm cover of 920kg DM/ha or 360kg DM/cow recorded on PastureBase Ireland. This issue doesn’t relate to the supply of grass but more so the ability to access grass on account of ground conditions due to wet weather.

“Farmers need to assess the situation every day and get 3-4 hours grazing as soon as possible. Getting grass into the diet is the priority from a milk production, fodder availability and fertility point of view,” he said.

Benefits of grass

Highlighting the benefits that getting cows out to grass for 3-4 hours can bring, Joe touched on some nutritional advisory messages. Comparing the milk production potential of cows offered 10.5kg (DM) of 70 DMD silage, 6.5kg of a 16% crude protein ration and 2kg of a high fibre / high energy straight when indoors to those grazing by day – consuming 6kg (DM) of 70 DMD silage, 7kg (DM) of grass and 5kg of a 16% crude protein ration – Joe explained that the former diet supported 24.2kg of milk production, while the latter supported 24.5kg of milk production at a significantly lower cost. Additionally, the cows offered 7kg of grass have the dietary potential to produce 3.46% milk protein as opposed to 3.30% under the indoor diet.

 Table 1: Milk production potential from various diets

 Indoors fulltimeIndoors fulltimeGrass by dayGrass fulltime
70 DMD silage 11 10.5 6 -
Grass 0 0 7 13.5
16% crude protein ration 5 6.5 5 4.5
High fibre / high energy straight 0 2 0 0
Total dry matter intake 15.7 17.3 17.1 17.4
Energy (UFL) supply 14.2 16.1 16.5 17.2
Protein (PDI) supply 1,330 1,520 1,630 1,880
Milk kg supported 21.2 24.2 24.5 25.4
Protein percentage (diet potential) 3.16 3.30 3.46 3.68

As a means of dealing with the current challenges, Joe made it clear that farmers should avoid complicated diets and feeding solutions, as these often add unnecessary costs and additional labour to the system, instead the focus should remain steadfast of getting grass into the diet – be that through the use of on-off grazing or by prioritising access to grass to a portion of the herd, i.e. earliest calving cows closest to peak milk production.

The situation on the ground

Joe also presented results of a survey completed by Teagasc advisors, highlighting the situation on the ground currently. The key results from this survey of 58 advisors include:

  • 51% of farmers are behind target in terms of their spring rotation planner, but are managing. 39% of farmers had little or no grazing done and just 10% of farmers are on target;
  • Between March 25 and 28, 47% of dairy farmers were reported to have their cows fully housed, 4% were offering grass under twice daily allocations, while 49% were grazing by day;
  • 7% of farms had no slurry or fertiliser spread, 58% had some fertiliser spread; while 35% had slurry spread only;
  • On the availability of silage, 61% of advisors reported that less than 10% of clients had ran out of silage, 32% of advisors reported that between 10% and 25% of their clients had ran out of silage, while 7% of advisors reported that more than 25% of their clients had ran out of silage;
  • In terms of silage availability, 10% of advisors reported that there was no silage to source locally on their clients farms, 24% said that it was available to purchase, while 66% said it was available but in limited supply.

Also read: Advisory messages from the National Fodder and Food Security Committee meeting

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