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Signpost farmer update: All set for breeding and trialling plantain

Signpost farmer update: All set for breeding and trialling plantain

Seán Moher, a dairy farmer Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, is a participant in the Teagasc Signpost Programme and Teagasc/Dairygold Joint Programme. In this update, he outlines his plans for breeding and explains why he's including plantain in his grassland swards.

The final preparations are in place for the upcoming breeding season. I’ll up the mineral specifications on the nuts. We are planning on starting breeding on April 26. We have picked the bulls for breeding, which are high EBI and high DBI. Sire advice has been completed and this has been sent to the technician’s handheld device.

About 20% of the herd are picked out for culling or to get beef straws from the start. We picked them out based on low EBI, low fat and protein, in the red category of the lifetime milk recording report, and if there have been any health issues previously. If a vet has to see a cow, she won’t get a Friesian straw, as we find the chance of getting back in calf here is around 30%.

After this, all we have to do is pick what cows are suitable for sexed semen on the day. The simple advice I was given is: ‘if she’s still waiting to be mounted then give conventional semen’.

There are three cows not cycling, one that retained an afterbirth and another had twins. These have been seen by the vet and should be correct for the start of breeding. Cow condition is also good at the moment coming up to the start of breeding.

Sean Moher

Reseeding and over-sowing plans

Two paddocks have been sprayed off on April 2 for reseeding. Soil fertility is good and lime will be put out on these paddocks. Multi-species seeds have been ordered. We will use varieties that will comply with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s multispecies scheme.

If conditions are correct, I will also over-sow a paddock with clover and plantain. I walked these fields and there was at least one clover plant in 90% of the steps I took across the field. I also use this walk at this time of the year to see what paddocks I can reduce nitrogen in from May onwards.

While I haven’t heard of any major results yet with plantain, I will try a paddock and will be interested to hear of results back from trials being carried out in Moorepark. There is some very interesting trial work on plantain coming from New Zealand.

Kate Fransen and her team from DairyNZ are running trials at Lincoln and Massey Universities, along with 23 partner farms. It’s only year three of a seven year trial. Earlier trials have surpassed their expectations. They have found that including at least 20% (probably closer to 30%) plantain in a sward reduces the amount of nitrogen leached into the ground water by between 20 and 60%. The main reasons for this are:

  • The plantain has a diuretic effect, causing to cows to urinate more often with less nitrogen in each patch;
  • The cows eating plantain send less nitrogen to urine and more to dung, milk and meat;
  • Plant secondary components in the roots slow down the breakdown of ammonium to water-soluble nitrates.

Another possible benefit is that the milk has been shown to be higher in Omega-3. Some regions in New Zealand now allow the incorporation of plantain in a sward as a mitigation strategy to hold stocking rates.

It looks like we will get similar herbage production and milk production from the plantain. We don’t foresee any difficulties with palatability or graze outs. I’m thinking the cows now are different animals from even a few years ago - producing over 2kg/day of solids - so they won’t have the time to be particular about what they eat. Anyway, only one way to find out. We’ll be much wiser by the end of the summer.

Getting cows back on track

The main task now is to get the cows back on track after a tough spring. Protein in the milk bottomed out at 3.15%. I had one quality red clover silage bale per cow and 15ac of zero grazing to make sure this wouldn’t happen, but they spent a lot more days inside than normal. We’ll start the second round this week. Covers are looking good, silage is gone from the diet. We are on a 15% crude protein concentrate at the moment and, when conditions are right, we will drop down to 13% crude protein.

Learn more about the Signpost Programme here.

See updates from other dairy farmers involved in the Signpost Programme here.

Click here for more information on the Teagasc/Dairygold Joint Programme.