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Forage & Nutrition
Guide 2018
The role of supplementation in
a grazing system
Grazed grass should always be the main component of the diet of an Irish
cow. Spring calving systems with tight six-week calving rates have been
developed to capitalise on the main growing season. Maximising the grass
in the diet will increase profitability once managed properly, a fact that has
been supported through research by Teagasc and others
Our green image has also been used to market our milk
products worldwide, and grass can protect us somewhat
when milk prices fluctuate. We talk a lot about grass being
a cost-effective feed, but we need to also include all related
costs such as land leasing, for example. Its cost-effectiveness
is based on good management, maximising growth and its
utilisation per hectare (ha).
There will always be an ongoing debate as to the best system
of farming for Ireland. Simply put, the best system is the one
that is managed the best, and what we perceive to be the ideal
system can be quickly undone if not managed properly. All
farms will associate themselves as grass-based farms. Some
farms have focused heavily on this by doing excellent work
with drainage, reseeding, soil testing, grass measuring and
budgeting to increase their stocking rate and grass intake per
cow. Along the way, some have realised that the genetics of
their cows might not be suitable for their land type, and low-
concentrate inclusion and `golf ball' grazing techniques, along
with others, have changed. Whether their decision was right
or not, it was a good decision for their farm because they now
know that their cow is fit to run in that system. These farms,
although well-publicised, are in the minority.
A lot of farms in Ireland are focusing heavily on grazing while
under pressure to reduce supplementary feeding. First, farms
need to look at the type of cow they have in this system.
Within these farms, there are higher genetic merit cows that
are producing over 6,000kg of milk, and within these groups,
there are cows yielding from 5,000-8,000kg. Most farms
will be averaging 25-30kg, but there is a subset of cows
producing more than 35kg of milk.
We all have these cows, which we are proud of from a milk yield
point of view, but when it comes to feed requirements, maybe
we should focus our attention on the average cow. These are
the animals that will leave the herd because of fertility or for
other culling reasons. These cows are more robust than we
give them credit for, but they are, undoubtedly, under pressure
in this system. Are these cows fit for purpose, and can they
survive in these systems?
We can rectify this situation with correct management. In
its absence, these cows will always struggle. If these are the
cows you have chosen for your system, then they will naturally
require feeding and supplementation and cannot be expected
to get everything they need from grass.
Can we create a system in which we maximise grass dry matter
(DM) intake and keep concentrate at reasonable levels while
producing good levels of milk solids?
Table 1 compares the average Irish farm with a group using
a Keenan diet feeder following InTouch* nutrition principles
and protocols. When we think of a diet feeder and total mixed
rations (TMR), we generally associate them with high levels of
alternative feeds and high levels of concentrates being fed to
high-producing cows, which could be to the detriment of grass
utilisation. The table outlines that Keenan TMR users in Ireland
are producing high levels of milk solids and utilising high levels
InTouch group
Research performance
Milk yield (kg/cow)
Milk solids (kg/cow)
Herbage utilised (t DM/ha)
Concentrate (kg DM/cow)
Margin over feed costs
*Based on data from Teagasc National Farm Survey (NFS) and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF).
Table 1: Comparison of performance indicators for the average Irish farm with InTouch customers and research performance.
Author: Cathal Bohane
Head of InTouch Nutrition, Keenan System