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Grazed grass is the cheapest feed available to dairy farms to maximise profitability.
Maximising grass growth rates and increasing utilisation rates, particularly at
the shoulders of the grazing year in the spring and autumn is a key priority. Each
additional day at grass in the spring is worth 2.70 additional profit per cow.
So How Can We Increase Spring Grass?
Soil fertility is one of the key pillars to growing early spring grass. Phosphorus (P) is one
of the major elements in driving early grass, along with the other elements such as soil
pH, Nitrogen, and Sulphur.
With soil fertility, particularly phosphorus levels, being in focus in recent years, it is
important not to take phosphorus for granted when it comes to spring grass.
Having sufficient phosphorus in the spring fertiliser programme is essential for two
1) Phosphorus is critical to kickstart grass growth in spring
2) Phosphorus availability in soil is lower in cooler soil temperatures in spring
Therefore, it is essential to get phosphorus fertiliser out early in the spring to help
spring growth. Teagasc recommends applying a minimum of between 50 75% of the
total P for the year in the early spring period in advance of spring growth.
For years, traditional phosphorus fertiliser ingredients being used in NPK blends have
remained very similar, with little advancement in improving the efficiency of fertiliser
phosphorus. These traditional forms of phosphorus fertilisers help to drive this spring
growth, but the efficiency of their use by the grass can be affected by high levels of
lock-up by the soil, especially in low P Index soils, low pH soils, and soils with high iron
and aluminium levels.
A new form of phosphorus, called TOP-PHOS, is now available that can help overcome
these issues to grow more grass in spring.
So what is TOP-PHOS?
TOP-PHOS is a brand new form of Phosphorus fertiliser which will be available in
2018. It is a revolutionary new Phosphorus technology that has been developed by
Groupe Roullier and available in Ireland from Grassland AGRO. TOP-PHOS is a new and
unique chemical form of phosphorus compared to standard P fertilisers, and has been
recognised within the EU REACH regulations as being different to the traditional forms
of P used in standard fertilisers.
TOP-PHOS is a new fertiliser ingredient called Complex Super Phosphate (CSP). It is a
water soluble phosphorus fertiliser, and is therefore available quickly for uptake by the
grass. However, unlike standard forms of phosphorus, the chemical make-up of TOP-
PHOS protects it from being locked up by the soil. This maximises the availability of
P to the grass. TOP-PHOS also contains stimulants that are designed to increase root
mass to improve P efficiency and to increase soil microbial activity to release P from
the soil reserves.
So How Does TOP-
PHOS Help Spring
availability in soils is
always challenging,
particularly in
the cooler soil
temperatures in
spring. TOP-PHOS
increases the
availability of P and
will therefore increase
spring grass growth,
as more of the P
applied can get to
the grass faster to
kickstart growth.
On-farm Irish trials in
2017 evaluating the
benefits of TOP-PHOS
for spring grass
growth showed an extra 0.4 tonnes of grass DM per hectare in the Jan to early April
period where TOP-PHOS was used as the source of P compared to standard P fertiliser.
This results in a return of 72/ha of spring grass grown by using TOP-PHOS.
TOP-PHOS also has the advantage of allowing greater flexibility when designing a
spring fertiliser plan as it is a fertiliser containing both phosphorus and sulphur in the
same product. A single application of TOP-PHOS in early spring can help to simplify
the overall spring fertiliser programme by getting both phosphorus and sulphur out
together, thereby simplifying the remainder of the spring fertiliser rounds to straight
nitrogen (e.g. Urea or CAN). This has the advantage of making fertiliser management in
spring more simple and straightforward.
For more information on how TOP-PHOS can help you grow more grass this spring,
contact your local Grassland AGRO technical advisor
or Dr. P.J. O'Connor on 086 3237894
Get more from
Spring Grass
in 2018 with TOP-PHOS
Dr. P.J O'Connor
Figure 1. The effect of using TOP-PHOS compared to
standard P fertiliser on spring grass yield.
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If we have followed a good dry-cow programme with quality
nutrition, minerals and management, we should have a
healthy calf and good-quality colostrum, with the cow back
in production. Regardless of your cow type or production
system, getting the basics right is the key. Some of the main
areas to focus on are:
Rumen development; and
The first few hours of a calf's life are probably the most
critical, because what happens during this time will have a
lasting impact on the lifetime production and profitability of
the animal. We only get one opportunity to get it right.
Colostrum is the first source of nutrients that the calf
receives, but it supplies much more. The calf's immune
system is not fully functional in the first months, so the calf
needs the immunoglobulins (antibodies) from its mother's
immunity to protect it against pathogens and disease. The
calf's ability to absorb these immunoglobulins into the
blood is at its highest in the first hour, so it is important
to get colostrum into the calf quickly. The absorption rate
declines rapidly thereafter and completely ceases at 24
The golden rule is to get at least 3L of colostrum into the
calf within two hours of birth for the first feed (this is the `3-
2-1' rule). Holstein calves require about 4L. Some farms take
no chances and bottle or stomach tube every calf. A second
feed should be given within eight hours before transitioning
to milk or a milk replacer.
The quality of the colostrum is also important; this is
determined by measuring the immunoglobulin (IgG)
content. Colostrum has a much higher IgG content
compared to whole milk.
Table 1.
Typical analysis
Whole milk
Total solids %
Fat %
Protein %
Immunoglobulins %
IgG1 (g/100ml)
Testing of colostrum can be carried out using a simple
device called a colostrometer/Brix refractometer.
The quality of colostrum can vary a lot between animals and
is affected by:
Age. Older cows have better colostrum;
Dry period length. Cows that are less than 40 days dry
have poor-quality colostrum;
Vaccinations. Cows vaccinated for IBR rotavirus,
Escherichia coli and bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) have
higher immunoglobin content;
Breed. Jersey and Guernsey cows can have better
Time. Colostrum quality decreases quickly post-calving.
At birth, it is 14.5 per cent antibodies, but it drops to 2.6
per cent at 24 hours.
Feed efficiency, or the rate at which calves convert
nutrients to weight gain, is best in the first few months of
life. It declines thereafter, so this early efficiency needs to
be capitalised on. Aim to double the birth weight before
weaning at 10 weeks.
Afterward, a 40kg calf will need to gain 0.6kg per day. It is
a challenge to achieve this performance; correct feeding
strategies must be implemented.
Correct nutrition is more important than the method used
for milk feeding, and labour is often the deciding factor.
Aim to feed 15 per cent of the animal's body weight. For a
40kg calf, that amounts to 6L per day. Keep in mind that the
abomasum of the calf is not large enough to deal with 6L of
milk at once.
Some traditional farm practices have seen calves fed 1
gallon, or 4-4.5L per day. Calves alone will require about
325g of milk solids to maintain themselves. At 12.5 per cent
solids, this is about 2.6L of milk, with the requirement being
more at temperatures less than 15 degrees Celsius. If a 40kg
calf is fed 4L per day (10 per cent of its body weight), then
this would allow only 200g of growth per day, and animals
larger than 40kg might struggle to maintain themselves on
this volume of milk. Remember, calves left to suckle or drink
ad-lib will eat 20 per cent of its body weight (8-9L per day in
the beginning and up to 14L pre-weaning).
At the busiest time of the year on dairy farms, calves are often the last
animal to receive care. The calves hitting the ground today will be the
future of your herd in 2020. Allocating sufficient time and resources to
calf management now is a worthwhile and cost-effective investment in
the long run, writes
Eimear Murray, InTouch Nutrition, Alltech Ireland
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