- Address the targets for June and act;
- Poor heat detection catches you out on repeats;
- Strive for quality grass;
- The best new grassland management tool is round bale surplus grazing, but topping may be necessary;
- Sixty-six per cent of nitrogen must now be used;
- More silage is required with expansion –
- but plan for quality;
- Low percentage milk protein can be avoided;
- Kale has merits;
- Attend Moorepark Open Day in July.
Targets for June
You are under-performing if you are not achieving the following standards in June:
3.4 per cent protein or better;
Milk yield of 20-25L per cow per day or, more importantly, 1.8-2.0kg milk solids (MS) per cow per day;
A milk drop of less than 2.5 per cent from week to week;
A post-grazing height of 4-4.5cm (not higher than your toe-cap);
Grazing quality grass (80 per cent dry matter digestibility [DMD]) by grazing covers of less than 1,600kgDM/ha;
Have 66 per cent of your annual nitrogen (N) used by the second week of June;
Less than 25 per cent of the paddocks with tall grass (dung-pads);
80 per cent of your silage made;
All slurry tanks empty;
Somatic cell count (SCC) less than 200,000;
Total bacterial count (TBC) below 15,000;
75 per cent of your cows in-calf after 42 days;
All heifers must be bulled and in-calf;
Still using high Economic Breeding Index (EBI) Friesian/Jersey AI bulls.
Every missed heat = €250 loss
Let's get serious about this issue. The minimum cost of a missed heat is E250. And it could be much greater (E800-1,000) if it results in the cow not being in-calf at the end of the season. National figures are extremely worrying: calving interval = 396 days; six-week calving rate = 56 per cent (vs target of 90 per cent); and cows culled per year = 25 per cent. Based on Moorepark research, these figures are costing the 80-cow farmer E22,440 per year. A massive loss! Many farmers are not going to be able to survive low milk price as a result.
Minimise this problem by answering a few questions.
What percentage of my cows/heifers are repeating?
Use the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) website to answer this question for you, or examine your breeding chart;
If more than 25 per cent of cows are repeating, then you have a problem;
A non-return-rate (NRR) of over 65 per cent for cows served more than 28 days is the target – this may seem very high but some of them will 'break' later in the time;
Rank yourself against the targets in Table 1, and act.
Assessment index Very poor Poor Acceptable Good Very good
% non-detected oestrous > 40 40-20 20-15 15-10 < 10
% 18-24 day return intervals < 50 50-60 60-62.4 62.5-65 > 65
% cows needing three services > 30 30-25 25-16 16-12 < 12
% cows needing four services > 17 17-12 12-6 6-4 < 4
% cows culled empty/year > 13 13-10 10-7 7-5 < 5
Table 1: Herd fertility targets for June.
The possible causes of the problem may be some or all the following:
Cows are underfed due to tight grazing, short of grass, stemmy grass, letting cows out directly after milking onto 12-hour grazing block or very wet conditions;
Cows are too thin or losing weight;
Bad semen (infertile bull – check in your discussion group if any particular bull is causing more repeats);
Cows under stress due to lameness, lack of water, stray electricity (don't underestimate), health issues (infectious bovine rhinotracheitis [IBR], bovine viral diarrhoea [BVD], Neospora, leptospirosis, fluke);
Cows are under stress on service day or when the heat was due;
Service procedure was poor (never presume you or your technician are perfect AI men). Over 70 per cent of repeat service must be between day 18 and 24;
Minerals may be a problem (could be iodine, copper, selenium or cobalt).
Address the problem: 'size up' with your adviser, vet or through your discussion group. Avoid very tight grazing as it adversely affects the cow's energy intake. Avoid feeding stemmy, poor quality grass as it also decreases energy intake. Avoid cows' stress by having no dogs or sticks, fast driving to the parlour.
If one particular AI bull is causing most repeats, check with your AI station or discussion group if there is a general problem. If using a stock bull, check that he is working on all cows (no favourites) and that he is not causing repeats (put a chin ball on him and record service dates). Remember one in every 10 bulls is infertile and one in three becomes infertile periodically throughout the season.
If you are sure everything else is ok, last but not least, suspect a mineral problem (responsible for 25 per cent of problems).
Use a blood test (milk test is no use) to confirm, but adjust for meal minerals being fed. A grass sample is extremely useful. Last winter's mineral analysis of the silage tells you more than a current blood test.
Graze quality grass
Research surveys have shown that dairy farmers will lose E70-100 per cow in profits over the next four months due to poor-quality grass. To minimise milk drop from one week to the next (less than 2.5 per cent) and increase protein, then graze leafy, quality grass (80 per cent DMD).
How do you provide quality grass in June?
It depends on how well you have grazed out paddocks in May and graze low covers now;
If badly grazed out, paddocks must be topped low (2.5 inches) so as to set up quality grass for next rotation;
The pre-grazing grass cover must not be greater than 1,600kgDM/ha;
Table 2 gives the target covers to aim at on the grazing area.
Stocking rate Pre-grazing cover Average farm cover
(Cows/ha) (SR x 17 x 21 + 100)* (SR x 180)**
2.5 993 450
3.0 1,171 540
3.5 1,350 630
4.0 1,528 720
*Stocking rate x daily allowance x rotation length + post-grazing height.
**Stocking rate x recommended cover per livestock unit.
Table 2: Target covers.
If the stocking rate is greater than four cows/ha, and assuming growth rate of 80kgDM/ha/day, and a 21-day rotation, then 1-2kg meal/cow/day will have to be fed.
If pre-grazing covers (PGC) and average farm covers (AFC) are greater than specified above, then take out the strong paddock for baled silage. If pre-grazing covers are greater than specified but AFC is below target (some farmers at present), be careful before you take out the strong paddock. This new concept must be learned by all farmers; consult your discussion group or adviser.
The big message is to graze covers appropriate to your stocking rate but never, ever above 1,700kg.
Measuring grass is the most important task in ensuring adequate, quality grass availability while minimising topping.
Topping may be necessary
This applies to most under-stocked farms and farmers who are not into measuring grass.
Fields must be topped when:
The lowest grazed grass in the paddock that animals have just grazed is greater than the height of your toe-cap; and
The tall grass area (dung pads) is greater than 25 per cent.
Most topping done by farmers is only cosmetic (waste of time):
Must top to 2.5 inches (no more) over ground level;
A rotary disc mower is probably best when a lot of 'butt' is left behind.
To estimate the amount of 'tall grass':
Get a 1.5ft-long stick and hold it straight and in front of you as you walk diagonally (both) across the paddock;
When you drop the stick, record whether it falls on tall grass or on bare area;
Get the percentage of 'tall grass' drops of the total drops, for example 25 tall out of 80 drops = 31 per cent tall (25 x 100);
If not topped this time, the 31 per cent will increase to over 40 per cent next time;
Having this amount of tall grass in a paddock is a terrible waste of nitrogen (applying it on 31 per cent of the paddock that will not be grazed) and grass (because all the leaves left after this grazing will rot and be replaced over the next 21 days).
Round bale grass management tool
As topping is effectively wasting grass, or utilising less of the grass grown, we must avoid topping as an option. How?
Many farmers are now using a disc-mower (instead of toppers) to manage their grazing to very high-quality levels by cutting out 'strong paddocks' for baled silage.
When the PGC is higher than your target, then that paddock must be cut for baled silage within two to three days of its due grazing date. This material should be cut, very low at 3.5cm, tedded or left in small rows for wilting, then bagged.
This silage will be very good quality:
It will be 80+ per cent DMD;
It can, and must, replace meal in August-September-October;
Or it should be kept for feeding to milking cows next February;
Aim to have two to three bales of this material for every four cows in herd so as to reduce your autumn-spring meal bill;
This material will be nearly as good as meal and will only cost half as much (10c/kg DM compared with 20-25c/kg).
Match nitrogen to stocking rate
The following are the recommendations for June, based on grazing stocking rates in June:
Cows/ha (June) Units/acre
3.45 or less 0 -14
4.45 or higher 42
Because of outside parcels of land being understocked, more N than specified here should be applied on the MP; but stay within the overall farm nitrogen limit. If you are on a three-week rotation, you cannot put on this level of N after each grazing. It will be too much.
One spreading over the whole farm on the same day per month is what should be done. On sulphur(S)-deficient farms you will get a response of 10-50 per cent more grass by spreading 20 units/acre of S between now and September.
Because S interferes with copper, don't use it if you don't need it;
Prove you need S by spreading 16 per cent superphosphate in an X shape in a paddock. It will be greener and have more grass when you come to graze it.
Quality silage tonnes now
Farmers made a lot of bad (poorly preserved) silage last year, with consequences for body condition score (BCS). We must review our approach to making it this year:
Cut it six to seven weeks after closing – maybe in two separate cuts;
Cut it in dry weather – a few days' delay doesn't make much of a difference;
Use an additive if sugars are low – acid still the best. Get a refractometer to confirm sugar levels – co-ops also do the same, as does Teagasc.
You must have 80 per cent of your silage (first cut) in the pit before the end of June.
Second cuts are far too expensive;
If you are short, cut some of the strong paddocks.
If you have enough silage, for sure, don't cut any second cut but reduce the amount of N on the grazing area so as not to generate too much surpluses. Because silage ground was grazed this year, quality will be good and it may be difficult to preserve.
If N levels are high, wilting is the only solution;
Always plan to cut in the afternoon in dry weather.
Over the past few years we have had fewer fish kills due to silage effluent. Let's keep it that way by collecting all effluent:
Even if you are miles from a river, you will pollute your neighbours' wells;
Make absolutely certain you collect it;
It also seriously pollutes ground water.
Bare silage fields provide an ideal opportunity to empty all slurry tanks:
Last real chance to spread large quantities of slurry;
Spread 2,000-3,000 gallons per acre immediately after silage has been cut and apply the N (65 units/acre) six to seven days later (never, ever apply the N before slurry because N losses will be great);
Dilute slurry in tanks with water to minimise loss of ammonia to the atmosphere and increase the efficiency of N to grow more grass;
Slurry gas kills without giving you any warning, so be extremely careful when agitating by keeping children, other adults, animals and yourself out of the house during agitation.
Low milk percentage protein
Poor-quality grass will result in low milk protein;
If grass supply is inadequate, percentage protein will be low and you may have to feed meal or quality round bales for a few days;
Low herd genetics for protein is the primary cause of low protein (live with this fact or do something about it);
Late calving will result in low mid-season per cent protein;
Your low percentage protein may be due to any or all of the above.
Cows and cattle require large amounts of water every day for growth and production. Requirement per cow varies, depending on moisture content of feed, sunshine and milk yield per cow, but will vary from 15-30 gallons/cow/day.
This is approximately 14L/cow/hour, or 70L/cow/5 hours;
100 cows require 1,400L/hour (25L/minute).
To check your farm flow rate: mark water level on trough. Empty a known volume while holding the ballcock (eg. 10 x 10L buckets = 100L). Hold the ballcock down and time how long it takes to get to the mark. Divide the litres removed by the time taken, eg. 100L in two mins = 50L/minute, to get flow rate.
Water quality affects intake; therefore, ensure troughs and supply are clean. Drinking occurs several times per day at feeding, milking times or in groups (many come when they see another drinking). The implications are:
Troughs under electric fences restrict access – heifers suffer. Situate in the middle of the paddock;
Animals generally will not travel more than 300 metres for water;
The size should be at least half the one-hour flow rate; therefore, 100 cows require 700L, as calculated above.
Prevent hoose/stomach worms
I am not a believer of the kill-all-parasites solution to parasite control. My approach is to let the animal build up some immunity. For hoose, you should not dose calves until a few of the strong calves start to cough. Then do all calves with a white or yellow dose. This bestows immunity to the calf and he/she will not usually get hoose again in its lifetime.
For stomach worms, dose all calves in late June/early July with a white or yellow dose and move to aftergrass. As stomach worm infection is predictable, they could get reinfected if they are not kept on 'clean pastures', that is fields that didn't have calves grazing yet this year. Rotate them round the aftergrass as long as possible, and no dose will be necessary during this period.
If you then practice the leader-follower system with the in-calf heifers, there will be no need for a further dose until housing. Having the older heifers in the system will increase growth over the summer by 0.5-0.68kg/day, because the calves will be getting the best of the grass (top) where no parasites live. If bulling heifers or first calver show symptoms of hoose (coughing) or stomach worms (sticky dung around tail head), they will have to be dosed.
In the case of late or small calves, use the 'buddy-buddy' system to rear them:
Pair two calves together in a several-cow paddock and leave them there for the remainder of the summer (10 calves require five paddocks);
They will get a fantastic thrive because they will be eating fantastic quality grass all the time with no exposure to parasites. Therefore, no dosing or meal required.
Kale is an option
Feeding kale as a forage source to cows and weanlings next winter should be considered where soil conditions are suitable:
It is 80 per cent DMD, as good as barley;
It and fodder beet will cost less than E1/day to feed a cow next winter, which is far cheaper than most alternatives;
The expected yield is 8-12t DM/ha with early June sowing;
With a 10t average crop and allocating 4kg and 7.5kg, respectively, to weanlings and cows per day (with another roughage), the crop will feed 40 weanlings or 20 cows for 60 days;
The weanlings and cows will gain 0.6kg and 0.25kg, respectively, per day;
Sow in fields that need to be reseeded or after first-cut silage.
Sow in early June and thereafter 1t/ha/week DM is lost;
A fine, firm seed bed is essential;
Seed can be drilled or broadcast (need higher seeding rate) at 4.5kg/ha to 5kg/ha;
Sow kale once per five years in the same field to avoid clubroot;
You need a soil pH of 6.5-7.0;
N – it needs 100kg/ha (80 units/acre) split in two applications, the second at the second to third leaf stage;
For a soil index 3, apply 30P (24/acre) and 170K (140/acre) at sowing. Poorer soils require more;
Watch out for pests as the crop develops;
There should be a run-back area available to the animals during feeding;
Place silage bale strategically along the headland now for convenient feeding during winter;
We will discuss other feeding issues/requirements then.
Bits and pieces
Target weights (kg) on June 1 for replacements must drive your management:
% cow weight Holstein Fr Jersey X
Bulling heifers 63% 367 342
Calves 23% 135 127
Any animal under these weights must be separated out and get priority grass or be fed 1-2kg meal. Dose for worms and move to aftergrass, leaving them two to three days in the same field before moving. The IBR annual vaccine may be due in June/July.
Change liners at 2,000 milkings:
If you have eight rows being milked twice per day, then each liner does 16 milkings per day. Therefore, you will need to change liners after 125 days (2,000 divided by 16) or 4.25 months. Now.
Scan cows now (28-35 days after service) to confirm pregnancy:
It will identify pregnancy and/or weak pregnancies;
It will help to identify problems, such as cysts;
You will have two to three more chances to get them in calf.
Reduce your workload and hours per day worked:
Plan a week or two off.
Moorepark open day: July 1
New research and technologies are the bread and butter of modern farming.