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Top five tips for May and the correct paddock size

Top five tips for May and the correct paddock size

Joe Patton, Head of Dairy Knowledge Transfer Teagasc, gives his top five tips for May and offers advice on moving to 24-hour grazing blocks.

  1. Milk production costs have risen significantly in the last 24 months. This was masked last year by strong milk prices; however, the price-cost situation has disimproved over the spring. Examine your cost base and complete a cash budget for the remainder of the year.
  2. Keep pre-grazing grass covers at the optimal three-leaf stage (1,400kg per ha covers). This will drive milk solids. If grass is getting towards heading out, skip it for surplus bales and move to the next paddock with ideal covers.
  3. Will you have enough silage for next winter? Do an early budget. Delaying silage cutting date to bulk up the crop will not solve a deficit. Plan for an extra second cut area if needed.
  4. Deal with any non-cycling cows immediately, including any cow calved more than 30 days. Don’t wait for a natural heat, as time is ticking on the breeding season already.
  5. Peak spring work has now passed and while farms remain busy, daily routines are more easily planned. Get clusters on by 3.30pm – this will put a better structure on the working day.

Correct paddock size

With weather and ground conditions improving, there is an opportunity to remove the strip wire. Twelve-hour allocations (two grazing allowances offered per day) still occur on many farms throughout the summer months. However, there are many benefits to making the change to 24-/36-hour paddocks, which include: less work setting up and moving fencing reels every milking; higher cow intake, particularly for first lactation cows; better grass utilisation; and, increased cow performance.

With so many potential benefits, why are 12-hour allocations still happening? Tradition, cows having to cross roads and existing paddock sizes are commonly cited as the main reasons. Tradition is a habit and can be changed. To make this easier, modify some paddock sizes to match herd demand to 24/36 hours.

For example: 100-cow herd X 18kg per head per day = 1,800kg required for 24 hours.

If there are 1,400kg in the paddock, then 1,800/1,400 = 1.3ha paddock size for 24 hours and 2ha for 36 hours. How many of your paddocks are of adequate size like this? How many can be easily changed? You may not be able to get all paddocks at the right size but having as many as possible will be a great help.

What can you do when you are crossing roads? What is the alternative to having the cows at home after the evening milking and across the road after the morning milking?

Table 1 shows that cows can go into a new 24-hour paddock each day and can get a full intake. This also means fewer chances of over-allocation of grass, which will result in poor grass utilisation and cow production. Furthermore, cows are still being located near the parlour for the morning milking. For farms where roads are not being crossed, 24-/36-hour allocations should be seriously considered. Ask yourself is current grass allocation hitting cow production, decreasing grass growth, and increasing workload? Make a plan to adjust paddock sizes and access as needed.

Table 1: Example of allocating grass when crossing roads

Day Grazing location
Monday evening Cows into a 24-hour paddock around the yard
Tuesday morning Cows across road to a new 24-hour paddock
Tuesday evening Cows back to finish Monday evening’s paddock
Wednesday morning Cows back to finish off Tuesday morning’s paddock
Wednesday evening Cows into a new 24-hour paddock around the yard

This article was first published in the Teagasc Dairy newsletter - May 2023, which can be accessed here.