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Grass 10 Featured Farmer and Johnstown Castle Research Farm Update

Grass 10 Featured Farmer and Johnstown Castle Research Farm Update

This weeks Featured Farmer are dairy farmers Eugene & Eoin Lawler from Ballitore, Co. Kildare. They give an update on their current grassland management and soil fertility. Aidan Lawless, Dairy Farm Manager at Johnstown Castle gives an update on the grass clover versus multi-species swards trial.

Grass clover v Multi species swards 2022 performance

As 2022 comes to a close we now have 3 full years comparison with a grass-clover (GC) versus multi-species swards (MSS). These two, small sized farm systems were set up in 2019 with the establishment of a six variety multi species mix containing two grasses, white clover, red clover, chicory & plantain, alongside a standard grass/clover mix.

Cow Performance

Cow health & performance across both systems for the 3 year period has been excellent, what is striking is how evenly matched both groups have been in terms of milk solids production across all 3 years to date. 2022 has seen an increase of 20kgs/MS/cow but this came at a cost, see table 1 below. Our concentrates fed per cow will go close to 1100kgs for the year, this is well above our target of 700kgs. It is a consequence of very poor growth rates for most of July/August due to moisture deficits. We were lucky in that we got some rain over this two month period, 50mm in total. This was enough to prevent swards from “burning up”, but growth rates were generally running around 20kgs/day compared to an expected 50-60kgs. 

Sward performance

Both systems were impacted by the drought, but the MSS swards did survive a couple of weeks longer before silage supplementation was required. Overall both systems grew 12.5 T DM/ha which would be 2 T DM/ha below our target. For the previous two years the MSS swards were coming in 1 T DM/ha less than GC, this year the MSS grew slightly more than GC whilst receiving 90kg N/Ha less artificial N (144 v 54). It would appear the summer drought had less of an impact on the MSS system.

Growth rates from mid-Sept to mid-Nov have been excellent, unfortunately the very wet weather for the past 3 weeks has impacted our ability to maximise this late growth. We’ll be carrying higher covers into 2023 on both systems than previous years as a result, possibly as high as 1000kgs  DM/ha on the GC system, with the MSS herd closer to 900kg DM/ha. Heaviest covers will be around 1600-1700 Kg DM/ha, with a flatter wedge than might be expected due to the excellent recovery on the paddocks grazed in last 4 weeks.

How both these systems perform over the next three years will be really interesting, the composition of the swards is changing over time, with a noticeable reduction in chicory on the MSS, much more work is required to determine the best management practices for a long-term sustainable MSS system, but results to date are promising.

Table 1. Highlights the performance of both systems to date in 2022

2022Multi SpeciesGrass Clover
Stocking rate 2.63 Lu/ha  2.63 Lu/ha  
Annual Production - grazed - kg/DM/ha 9,730  9,525 
Annual Production - silage - kg/DM/ha 2,940  2,955 
N applied/ha 54  144 
Concentrates fed / cow 1014  1012 
Kg Milk Solids / cow 559  556 
Empty rate - 11 week breeding all in calf  all in calf 

Grassand Management on the farm of Eugene & Eoin Lawler Ballitore, Co. Kildare - November 29th 2022

Location: Ballitore, Co. Kildare
Enterprise: Dairy
Herd EBI: €180
Stocking Rate: 
2.3 LU/ha on whole farm
2022 Meal Fed/Cow: 1157 Kg DM/ha (to date)
2022 Milk Solids/Cow: 455 Kg MS/cow (to end Oct)

Autumn Grazing Management

Our autumn building started from an AFC 216 Kg DM/ha on 23rd August. The rain in September brought on grass growth and it peaked and stayed around 700 Kg DM/ha during October as we sold some cows to drop stocking rate from 3 LU/Ha to 2.6 LU/ha and zero-grazed in silage ground. I stopped spreading chemical N in July with the drought. With the background release of N and slurry in September, we decided there was adequate amounts without it. Considering we are still grazing today, we’re happy with our decision.

We’ve been out by day since the end of October due to rainfall. We picked which days to graze and probably lost a week during November that they didn’t go out. The AFC on 10th November was actually 949 Kg DM/ha, so this meant we could keep grazing and tomorrow November 30th will be the last grazing.

We used the projected wedge last week and it gave us the confidence to graze two more paddocks but I’m only grazing one as I’d prefer to have the other for the spring. The wedge predicts my closing cover on Dec 1st will be 830 Kg DM/ha. I’m doing our closing cover tomorrow to clarify this.

The paddock we grazed was a clover paddock oversown in May. The clover has come on really well this autumn and it was at 1,400 Kg DM/ha but we wanted to get light down to the base. We have zero-grazed grass come in for another 10 days or so.

Flexibility is essential for us here, if we stuck rigidly to a plan you wouldn’t manage. Every week we have to respond differently to our plans when it isn’t going right. I’m a big believer in keeping in touch with the people who know, and this is why I find the grass group a great asset to our farm.

Average Farm Cover (AFC): 870 KgDM/ha
Growth: 10 KgDM/ha/day
Annual Tonnage YTD: 11.7 T DM/ha - year to date
No. Grazings/Cuts: 9.1
Kg N/ha (milking platform): 171 Kg N/ha (Inc. 35 Kg N/ha organic)

Soil Fertility

The farm was soil tested last winter. The farm is in index 3s and 4s for P and K. We do need to spread lime and I’d like to spread around 200 T lime between now and the spring if conditions allow.