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Getting Ready for 2024 Dairy Season

05 January 2024
Type Media Article

By Michael Donoghue, B&T Dairy Adviser, Teagasc, Galway/Clare

Most spring calving herds are now 2 to 3 weeks away from calving. Hopefully most dairy farmers have been dry for at least 3 weeks, are well rested and motivated for a bust spring ahead. The weather in 2023 was especially challenging between a late spring, a mini drought in June and very wet autumn. Indeed most farms will have lost 4 to 6 weeks grazing compared to a “normal” year. This represents a massive expense in terms of more silage fed, lower cow performance and ultimately lower profitability. Decisions made over the next few weeks will have long lasting consequences for the profitability for the dairy business in 2024. Some of the key areas are discussed below.


In short make sure you have enough, to allow for a wet spring. Cows will vary depending on size and stage of lactation etc but 2 bales per month is a reasonable guide. So a 100 cow herd to get to 1st April will need roughly 600 bales, if housed full time. If you are running short act now by;

  • Focus on grass, see below
  • Selling stock, act early for the most effect, will also help with nitrates
  • Buy silage, it is available but often quality will not be good enough for milking cows, so target at dry cows, especially from mid-March on
  • Buy ration, if feeding dry cows all cows need to have adequate feed space to be able to restrict silage otherwise silage intake won’t be reduced.


Grass costs 3 to 4 times less than either silage or meal, stock performance is better and labour input is drastically reduced. After a very wet but mostly mild winter most farmers have a great supply of spring grass.

Spring Grazing Plan:

  • 33% grazed by 1st March
  • 33% grazed by 20th March
  • 100% grazed by 10th April

The above grazing plan is a very good guide and every farmer can adopt it to their own farm. On heavy farms or if the spring comes wet, a week to 10 days could be added to the targets. Conversely on a dry farm or if the spring comes dry, the targets can be brought forward by a week or so.

The principles behind it are very simple;

  1. To get grass into animal’s diet early in the spring
  2. To start your farm growing
  3. To ensure you have enough grass to start the second round in April.

One of the more challenging aspects of the above plan is to get 33% of the farm grazed in February. However getting 33% grazed in February is vital to ensure there is enough grass to start the 2nd round on roughly the 7th April. The fields grazed in February will have 40 to 60 days to recover so taking a growth of 20 Kg/ day as an average over the period there should be 1,000 Kg of cover to start grazing the second round.

The key to getting this amount of ground grazed in February, when in a dairy scenario not all cows are calved and appetites are small. Is to get out even if only for 2 hours, go to low covers and use other stock if required, i.e. replacements.  Be flexible, walk dry paddocks and if cows have to be housed for a day or couple of weeks so be it, but be ready to go when the weather allows.


Slurry can be spread from the 16th Jan and chemical fertiliser from the 1st Feb. Both slurry and chemical fertiliser supply vital nutrients, mainly N, P and K, to increase grass growth. However for best results wait till soils are starting to warm up, >6, ground is nicely dry, no rain is forecast and aim to use LESS slurry equipment to ensure maximum N retention.

Slurry should be targeted primarily at silage ground as it is an excellent source of K and organic matter, which silage removes a lot of from the ground. 2000 to 2500 gallons of slurry per acre, from a roofed tank, should be spread on silage ground and this will supply all the P, K and organic matter a good crop of 1st cut requires. If soils need extra K this should be applied during the 2nd half of the year. Silage ground can be topped up with 80 units of N and 14 units of sulphur in late March/ early April as weather allows.

If slurry is been applied to grazing ground make sure to use LESS equipment to minimise contamination. Also if possible target this slurry at lower K and P index paddocks. For the grazing ground go with half a bag of protected urea per acre in Feb when ground conditions allow. Then from mid-March aim to spread a bag of protected urea per acre when ground conditions allow.

Clover will start to deliver N to the grass sward from May on, consider this if clover is present. If no clover is on your farm maybe look at including and managing it in a reseed in 2024.

Take time to complete a Profit Monitor as this will help drive farm profit in 2024, as this will identify the strengths and weakness of your business.

Lastly make an appointment with the GP to get a check over yourself, you are the most important part of your farm business.