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Protect average farm cover as 'green drought' takes hold

Protect average farm cover as 'green drought' takes hold

Following a prolonged period of dry weather, many areas are experiencing a decline in the daily grass growth rates being recorded.

In this week’s edition of the Grass10 newsletter, the Grass10 team detail steps farmers can take to manage in this period when growth and demand are coming closer together.

The first step is to establish where grass supply and growth rates are on your farm using PastureBase Ireland, so you can react. Farms growing less than demand should introduce additional supplementation to hold average farm cover (AFC).

Hazy sunshine, high temperatures and exceptional drying have dropped the growth rates to 65kg DM/ha/day on average, figures from PastureBase Ireland show, while demand on dairy farms was 56kg DM/ha/day.

Although the majority of farms are still in a ‘green drought’, this situation will get worse unless some rainfall is received at the weekend. At soil moisture deficits above 60mm, grass growth begins to drop significantly.

Drier counties in the east (Carlow, Kildare etc.) and the south east are experiencing larger reductions in growth, as soil moisture deficits approach 65mm. These areas will see a further drop in growth rates (35-45kg DM/ha/day) for the coming week in the absence of rain.

Managing through the current dry period

In drier conditions, the grass plant starts to enter survival (reproductive) mode and more stem and seed heads will be apparent, even at lower covers.

The rotation length must be held at 20-25 days and operate at an average farm cover of 700-800kg DM/ha (180-220kg DM/LU), to protect growth rates. Average farm cover must be kept above >500kg DM/ha at all costs.

It is also necessary to hold a reasonable demand on your farm (50-60kg DM/ha). To achieve this, remove any surplus stock, replacement heifers or non-priority animals from the main grazing platform.

With grass dry matter levels being high (>19%), make sure animals are grazing out paddocks to 4cm and target high utilisation. For reseeds over 600kg DM/ha, graze lightly to strengthen roots and encourage tillering.

Complete a winter fodder budget

Many first cuts of silage have been completed throughout the country, with quality and quantity reported to be excellent. However, many farmers had small reserves of silage left over after an extended housing period in winter 2022/2023. Now is the time to ask yourself what requirement have you for second cut in order to be self-sufficient for feed on your farm for the coming winter.

By completing a fodder budget early, you can plan for second-cut silage or aim to source alternative feed stocks early. A fodder budget can be completed on PastureBase Ireland or talk to your local advisor.

This article was adapted from the Grass10 weekly newsletter, more information on the Grass10 Campaign is available here.

Also read: Managing through the dry spell on drystock farms – your questions answered