Grass supply has declined and grazing conditions deteriorated on many dairy farms across the country. The majority of cows are now calved with demand for grass outstripping growth rate on many farms. Teagasc Advisers are now reporting the emergence of grass shortages. This could not have come at a worse time as it coincides with the start of the breeding season.
Dairy farmers must ensure that cows are not underfed at this time and rotation length needs to be held at 21 to 23 days – this means that no more than 4 – 5% (4 – 5 ha per 100 ha) of the available grazing area is grazed on a daily basis.
There are a number of options available to dairy farmers to maintain dairy cow feed intakes and fill the ‘grass gap’:
1. Remove all animals other than milking cows from the dairy cow grazing area.
2. Increase the area available to the dairy herd – the option of grazing the silage ground should be taken if possible. This will allow grass covers to build on the remainder of the farm.
3. On lowly stocked farms, introduce meal feeding. 1 - 3 kg may be required, depending on the size of the grass gap
4. On highly stocked farms: increase the level of meal feeding – up to 6kg meals may be required, provided adequate forage is available; introduce silage into the diet – this is necessary where the feed shortage is greater than 6kg of meal.
Finally, grass growth rates will increase once this difficult spell has passed. Therefore farmers should continue to apply fertiliser N, when weather and soil conditions allow. Recommended fertiliser N application rates vary from 28 – 49 kg/Ha (23 – 40 units/acre) depending on planned stocking rate for the month of May. Contact your local Teagasc Adviser for further advice.