Making the most of a bad lot
Cope better with the worst of the wet weather by following key tips to maintain feeding rates and boost summer grass growth.
With many parts of the country receiving 2.5 times the normal amount of rainfall over the last six weeks, many farmers are finding that traditional and more intensive summer feeding structures have been made redundant.
Here are seven key ways to cope better with the worst of the weather.
1. Monitor Cows
Make sure your stock are not suffering from lack of nutrition due to the lower than normal nutritional value of grass at the moment. The key signs to monitor are:
Low milk protein concentration due to not enough feed.
Milk yields declining by no more than 10pc per month.
Cows that are 4-5 months calved should not be losing body condition.
First calvers will require extra attention.
2. Target Feed Rates
Your cows may still be out grazing but how much do you need to supplement the grass that they are eating?
These are Teagasc's guidelines for supplementation at grass (see table, right):
The suggested supplementation rates are based on a medium to low protein content in grass.
The level of grass protein can be judged according to how stemmy the grass is.
Increase these feed amounts by 2kg for every extra 4.5l of milk above 20l/cow with a ration high in energy at 16pc crude protein.
Don't forget to reduce Calmag rates as supplementation increases. Your merchant should be able to tell you what rates are required.
3. Coping with poor quality silage
If you are struggling with poor quality silage, increase meal to compensate.
Teagasc recommendations suggest increasing meal by 1-1.5kg for every five unit decrease (below normal rates) in dry matter digestibility.
Don't cut corners on meal -- it needs to be a high energy meal with 18pc crude protein.
4. Feeding fresh silage
High quality bales are preferable to medium-quality pit silage for full-time house animals.
However, baled silage opened straight after wrapping needs to be used within 24-36 hours as it heats quickly.
If you are using freshly pitted silage, it needs a minimum of three weeks before opening.
5. Still got silage to make?
Sean O'Connor, of Polythene Agri, says: "It will be difficult to achieve sufficient dry matter (DM) content this year because it won't be easy to wilt.
If you are wilting, it's important to spread the sward as widely as possible.
"But don't try to wilt more than a day since research has shown that the crop begins to lose some of its DM content after this point.
"Extended wilts also make the silage more prone to mould growth.
"Silage bales made using a wet crop are more prone to leaking during storage and so it's especially important to ensure they are wrapped using at least six layers of film."
6. Don't give up on fertiliser
Nitrogen should still be applied as per stocking rate of the farm, but only where ground conditions allow.
Much root damage has occurred in the past six weeks which will take some time to recover.
However, the application of phosphorus where regulations allow it will be key in kick-starting that much-needed root repair.
7. Avoid poaching at all costs
Poaching can cause damage to a paddock which will reduce grass growth for the following year by 30pc.
The use of farm tracks can significantly reduce poaching. Multiple entrances to a field also help spread the level of stress on the ground.
The allocation of square blocks of grass leads to less walking by the cows, and the use of back fencing when grazing prevents access to recovering areas of grass.
On/off grazing systems reduce the time cows spend on grass, and time spent on it is used eating and not walking.
- Neil Brady