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September 2013

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Messages:

  • Consider your super-levy options now.
  • Make autumn grass targets drive grassland management.
  • How do you graze most days in autumn?
  • Spread all the farm with Nitrogen in early September.
  • Condition cow body condition now and act.
  • Do the Salmonella vaccination of in-calf heifers and cow now.
  • Feed replacements below target now.
  • Manage autumn reseeds.

Consider Super-Levy Options

The country is heading for a super-levy bill; where are you? Over 100,000 extra cows are being milked and most large Co-ops are over quota so the risk is great. It was a good year for grass this autumn, which will make things worse. Preliminary observations suggest that more cows will calve in February of next year resulting in more spring milk. Many decisions revolve around answering this question. You are in control of the size of your own super-levy bill. Therefore, if you wish to minimise it, take serious action now.

If over or on quota you cannot justify meal feeding this month to any cow be she thin, fat or late calvers.

If under quota, you have to ask yourself is it economically justified to feed meal now or would I be better off going for some other option, for example:

Milk on a week later to realise a milk price of near 45c/l.
Produce and sell more next spring by not feeding milk to calves.
Keep an extra few milking cows next spring?
If your cows have not the ability to milk do not feed meals as you will lose up to 10 cents per litre for every extra litre produced.
From your EBI report, you will know if your cows can milk.

If the P.D. (Predicted Difference) is 30 Kgs or less for milk this indicates a lack of ability to produce milk (does not mean she is a bad cow) and she will give 0.56kgs milk for every 1 kg of meal fed(a loss of 5-7c/kg fed)

Cows in this category may be British Friesian, New Zealand or Jersey.

Cows with a P.D. for milk of over 100kg give a response of 1.07kg milk for every Kg of meal fed (a gain of 12-18c/kg fed), so it would pay to feed 2-3kg (no economic response above that) meal if grass is tight or intake is reduced.

More and better quality grass is by far the most profitable option.

Seriously over quota producers should now consider the following. Some farmers will gamble selling milk at or near 40c/l and are prepared to take the 28c/l penalty. Being 15-20 per cent over quota is manageable but many, because of last year's meal bills cannot afford greater penalty.

Feed milk to calves and weanlings because every gallon (4.54L) of whole milk is worth 2kg of meal (equals 50cents) and you would be saving Ä1.27 in super-levy. This gives milk a value of Ä880/t meal equivalent.

This level of meal could be expected to give 0.7kg extra weight gain, therefore, feeding at least a gallon of whole milk to all calves should be practiced this autumn to minimise super-levy penalty.

If over or on quota you cannot justify meal feeding this month to any cow be she thin, fat or late calvers. Dry of thin cows that you wish to stay in the herd.

Alternatively, sell milking cows now. I have a number of farmer clients who are prepared to buy milking cows now that are calving in January or February. This is a win-win situation for both you and him. If you have more than adequate in-calf heifers coming-in next spring this is a very attractive option. Of course, it also will reduce your winter feed bill this winter. The silage alone for a cow will be worth over Ä220 per cow.

Targeted Autumn Grass Management

This is going to be a very tricky September to November grassland management period because of recent high growth rates. Grazing too high farm cover will kill many grass tillers. Most Irish farmers run out of grass in October, because they effectively only live for today and do no planning.

Grazed grass drives your 'farm engine' which is your cow. Give her quality grass and she will milk, produce more protein and live a healthy lifestyle. A 300-day grazing season must be the aim for all dairy farmers on dry land. It will be 20 to 30 days less on wet land and, therefore the profits will be lower. How do you achieve those challenging targets?

Do you know that autumn grassland management is the principle factor influencing the supply of grass availability for grazing next spring. Therefore, the grazing season starts now in September.

The alternatives are very expensive.

Good planning now is required to:

Maximise the proportion of grazed grass in the cows diet this autumn.
To finish this grazing season with the desired farm cover to ensure early turn out in spring.
While these two objectives seem incompatible, with good planning it is possible to achieve both.

What are the key autumn grassland management goals?

Increase rotation length from 30 days in early September, to 35 days and 40 days in the middle and end of the month.

Have the highest average farm cover (AFC) in
late September, early October, building up by 100kg DM/ha/week.

For a stocking rate (SR) of 2.5cows/ha or less the target AFC in late September is 1,100-1,150kg DM/ha (450/LU). For a SR of 3.3 cows/ha or more the target is 1,300kg DM/ha (400/LU). The target covers on September are 850kgDM and 950kgDM for the low and high SR respectively.

The last rotation must start between October 1 and 15 and finish between November 15 and 29. With wet land all dates are moved 14-21 days earlier. Over 65 per cent of the area must be grazed by the end of the first week of November as every day's delay in closing after November 1 (average date) reduces spring supply by 15kgDM/ha.

Graze out paddocks to 3.5-4cm to encourage winter tillering during the last rotation. Use the autumn rotation planner to guide you through the last rotation. It will guarantee you won't run out of grass before housing.

To extend the grazing seasons this autumn and have early grass next spring, you must have certain levels of grass on your farm this September or early October. Otherwise, you won't derive the benefits.

The following target average farm covers (kgDM/cow) are suggested:

Date

S R/ha

2.5

3.3

1st September

340

290

15th September

390

320

1st October

460

380

15th October

450

370

1st November

410

330

15th November

320

240

If your stocking rate is 2.3 cows per hectare in mid September, then you calculate your average farm cover (kg DM/ha) requirement as follows:

390 x 2.3 = 900kgDM/ha.

Pre-grazing covers (PGC) should not be greater than 2,300kg DM at any stage, otherwise, excessive rotting will take place.

Use the strip wire to ration grass, in square blocks, if covers are greater than 2,000kgDM and/or if cows are remaining in a paddock/field longer than 2.5 grazings; and/or if weather is wet.

Where grass demand is greater than grass growth quality round bales and meals must be introduced, otherwise, you will run out of grass in late October. Most farmers should feed 2kg meal/cow/day (citrus or beet pulp).

Unless grass on the strong paddock is excessively heavy, over 2,400kgDM, no cutting or topping should be done in September.

It will have a very big detrimental effect on the quantity of grass in the last rotation. However, cut and bale it if very heavy in early September, but no topping.

You are grazing the second last rotation in Sept and it is very important to get yourself grazing the correct paddocks now so that you will be grazing the correctly situated paddocks in the spring. Obviously, you should be able to graze the driest paddocks first in spring and they should be furthest away because cows will be lighter post-calving compared with November walking weight.

As a general principle you should graze the silage ground at least once before closing and I recommend it be grazed twice before closing. This will have a major influence on which paddocks to graze first and last in the last two autumn rotations.

If you want to close fields for silage on April 1, for cutting on May 20-25, then you must graze approx half your paddocks before starting to graze the silage area from around March 15 to April 1 and graze other eight to 10 paddocks from April 1-10.

This grazing sequence must be mirrored in the September and October rotations.

If you graze silage area twice before closing, with an average closing date of April 15, and a six-week cutting date of June 10, then you must graze your silage area first in spring and again from April 10 to 20.

Again this must be mirrored in September/October rotations.

It may sound complicated but talk to your Adviser and Discussion Group for clarification as it is worth a lot of money in savings on meal and higher milk solids.

Grazing Practises

Most farmers don't practice wet weather grazing techniques. There is no point in having grass and complaining about the weather, wet ground etc. – you must get on with using all the recommended practices to graze grass under difficult conditions.

Remember a few principles about cow behaviour:

Cows eat most of their grass requirement in two three-hour grazing bouts (95 per cent of what they will eat if out full time) after each milking, therefore, leave them out to graze for three hours after each milking and then remove them off the paddock. Cows eat very little during the night but become active again at sunrise, probably 6am (if it rains during the night they will have little or now damage done by 6am, because they will have not been walking, so take them in early for milking on wet mornings).

In wet weather cows eat with 'five mouths' because of all the damage they do with their feed (therefore, reduce walking in paddocks).

Cows do two to three times more walking in long narrow paddocks or strip grazed areas than in square blocks (allocate cows' square areas).

Cows do most walking when it is raining (therefore, never let out cows when it raining and always bring them in when it starts to rain).

Let cows out with an edge to appetite by not feeding silage or delay let-out by two-to-three hours after milking.

Soiled grass, with clay or dirt, will not be eaten by cows (so, keep roadways, paddock entrances and around water troughs clean – and use several entrances into the paddock).

Water saturated fields should not be grazed (too much poaching and low intakes).

Uneaten grass will prevent poaching (therefore, walk cows over good grass to the back of the paddock). Grazed ground poaches very easily (never, ever let cows walk over paddocks that were grazed yesterday or the day before). Grass regrowths appear two days after grazing (so, always use a backfence to prevent animals eating regrowths). Heavy grass covers take too long to graze which means cows are too long in small areas of paddocks and can do a lot of damage. The pre-grazing yield should never be more than 2,000-2,300 depending on stocking rate.

September Nitrogen

Due to the weather the date for last N has been extended but as growth rates will be a lot lower in late September, therefore your Nitrogen allowance should be used across the farm before mid-month.

The amount of Nitrogen you can use now depends on how you have managed your nitrogen use to date this year. You can't put on any if you have used all of your allocation by now. If you are in that boat, then, if you have slurry or soiled water available you should cover as many acres as possible to maximise the benefit of the nitrogen therein.

Your last day for spreading slurry is October 15. It would be a good idea to wait till October 1 to 15 to spread any left over slurry because the nitrogen therein will make a contribution to grass growth/protection in November – a kind of anti-freeze effect.

What are the recommended rates of Nitrogen in September? It depends on the stocking rate (See Table 2).

Table 2. Recommended rates of Nitrogen for different
Stocking Rates in September

Cows per hectare

Units per Acre September

Total Units/
Acre for year

2.24 or less

None

133-175

2.24-2.35

20

205

2.35-2.47

28

226

2.47-2.94

20

200

Low stocked farms, 2.24 cows per hectare or less, need no nitrogen because the nitrogen already spread and 'background' nitrogen is adequate to grow the amount of grass required. But it is hard to see how anyone, given the winter feed situation, could justify not applying N this September.

Farmers with 2.47 cows per hectare should apply 28 units acre on September 14-15 on the entire farm.

Farmers stocked more heavily can only apply 20 units per acre of Nitrogen. Remember, it is only 196 units per acre for the whole year. If this hasn't been used to date you can apply more. These heavily stocked farms will be dependent on soiled water, slurry and background Nitrogen to drive grass growth in autumn.

Improving Cow Condition

Do it now, as later is too late because it leaves you with few options. The target cow condition score (CS) now is 2.7 or greater. You must identify cows that are thinner than that now and plan some course of action for them. If you wait, they will calve down thin and not milk well next year or go incalf.

One condition score is about 50kg liveweight in a Friesian and 40kg in a Jersey cross cow. Dry cows need more energy to gain liveweight than milking cows, because they use feed less efficiently for weight gain when they are not milking. To gain 1kg of liveweight/day a dry cow requires 46MJ ME whereas 39 MJ ME will be required while she is milking.

Therefore, we should try to put on BCS before we dry off cows. The drying off BCS should be 3.0-3.25; therefore, for a cow with a CS of 2.75 now she has to put on an extra 25kg weight (over and above calf weight gain). This cow will have to get an extra 93kgs meal over next 60 days or 1.5kg/cow/day of a low protein/high energy ration.

Your options for these thin cows are to:

Stay milking and feed 2-4kg meal (low percentage P and high energy) per day.

Or dry off 12-14 weeks before expected calving date.

This year I favour feeding them up to 4kg of low protein meal to produce valuable milk in a bad cash flow year and put on body condition cheaply.

This is not an appropriate option for over-quota farmers; they should dry off early.

Dosing Vaccinations

September is a big preventative care month. Salmonella abortions are a major risk for all farms at seven to nine months. This is one of the only essential vaccinations – abortions would put you out of business. As in-calf heifers are being done for the first time they need two injections, three weeks apart, the second one before end of September.

This is very important, because the animal has no protection for two weeks after the second injection. So, she could abort. Vaccinate all cows on the same day (September 20) the heifers are getting their second injection.

It is essential to vaccinate weanling replacement now for Leptospirosis at six months old. Watch out for hoose among weanlings:

Yellow/white doses, such as Panacur, Bayverm, Valbasten, Zeropen, Nilverm, Cuanaverm, etc. will kill hoose worms and give two-to-three weeks protection and longer with good grassland management.

Cydectin, Enzec, Dectomax, Ivomec, etc will kill hoose and give protection for five weeks or longer but they are four times more expensive than the white/yellow drenches.

If calves have stomach worms (sticky dung around tail head) they must be dosed.

Fluke (stomach fluke) will be (confirmed by blood and dung samples) a problem this year on many farms. Do the appropriate dosing programme for the product being used.

Mastitis, in the form of higher SCC levels in milk will be a serious problem for the remainder of the year. Some serious offenders should be dried off now while young cows that are a problem should be tested with the CMT test and acted on.

Feeding Replacement Heifers

In-calf heifers have been neglected on many farms over the last few years. Friesian weanling heifers must be 180-190kg, while friesian in-calf heifers must be 400-420kg.

Divide up your incalf heifers now by weight. They will generally put on 0.8kg/head/day in late autumn and must be 480kg on November 1 so, if they are 20kg below target now they need an extra 83kg meal during the next 60 days or 1.4kg/day.

The same principle goes for the weanlings but their ration should be 17-18 per cent protein, and because replacements are so valuable farmers should target making all their weanlings bulling weight next May 1.

A weighing scales is a very good investment for discussion groups (one between every thee-to-four members). Remember, the saying 'that which is measured is managed'.

Don't forget their salmonella and leptosporosis vaccines as advised above. Hoose and stomach worms can be a problem in 1.5 year olds, so be vigilant.