- Only buy what you cannot do without;
- Grazed grass drives down costs;
- Do the last rotation plan now;
- Preventative animal health is more important than ever;
- Act when replacement heifers are below target;
- Castrate males now;
- Why non-dairy farmers should join up with dairy farmers;
- Things to consider if thinking about expansion or a new venture.
Only buy what you can’t do without
You should adhere to the following principle this autumn and next year: “I never buy what I want, but only buy what I can’t do without.”
Excessive levels of meal feeding cannot be justified. Only feed to animals that are productive and require it (think before you feed everything).
Only spend what you need on nitrogen – most low-stocked farms need none. Take veterinary advice before you go ‘mad’ spending on vaccination programmes.
You must decide that your ‘fixed costs’ are not fixed and can be reduced downwards:
Car, electricity and phone costs must be tackled;
Machinery costs are prohibitive on some farms – only spend the bare minimum;
Farm maintenance costs must be at an all-time low this autumn;
There may be a case for selling off machinery (delivers cash income) and using contractors – more and more farmers are doing this.
Maximise your profit
September is a vital month in driving and increasing
your farm profit – for this year and, more particularly,
for next year;
Grassland-management plan starts now;
Cow-condition manipulation starts now;
Winter-feed assessment starts now;
Animal healthcare is critical;
Financial review is necessary;
Replacement heifer care is a high priority.
Grazed grass drives down costs
If grass stopped growing what would you have to do?
Feed more meals, more silage and alternative feeds;
All of these are three to six times more expensive; and
All of these require more labour, machinery and housing to feed and service.
If the quality of grass decided it was always going to be bad, what would happen?
Milk yield and weight gain would decrease substantially;
More meals would be fed; and
Autumn grass quality can decrease fast.
The net result is lower profits. With profits decreasing by €400 to €600 per cow due to lower milk price, we cannot afford other losses.
Grass is the engine which drives all dairy farms: 80-90 per cent of most dairy farms’ income derives from grass, with support from other management factors.
Autumn/early winter grass will increase net profits by €1.20 per cow per day (€0.85 for winter calving herds), with only three hours of grass in the cows’ diet each day. Therefore, you must keep grazed grass in the cows’ diet as long as possible, and September is key to achieving that.
Good grassland planning now will minimise costs and increase the benefits, including profit, later in October/November. Make a grass budget. Now is the best time to do it. Agrinet has a very simple, easy-to-do one on its web page. Get help if you are unsure of what to do. There are certain things you must know why and how to do, and this is one of them. Learn now.
I know I tell you every year to do a grass budget, so why haven’t you done it yet? You think it is:
A paper exercise;
Too much bother; or
No benefit to you.
With margins now so tight, you cannot fool yourself any longer. A grass budget will allow you to:
Decide on the number of cows to carry this autumn so as to have an all-grass diet for the cows while milking;
Ration grass by day so that you can stay out longer with grass in the diet;
Plan the type and quantity of meal (or silage) to feed to cows this autumn;
Plan housing date, but aim to stay out by day until November 20 on dry land and November 5-10 on wettish farms; and
Plan let-out date in spring for cows, calves and cattle.
To extend the grazing seasons this autumn and have early grass next spring, you must have certain levels of grass on your farm this autumn. Otherwise, you won’t derive the benefits. The following target covers (kgDM/ha) are suggested for different stocking rates.
Date Stocking rate (cows/ha) on milking platform
2.5 3.0 3.5
September 1 400 330 280
September 15 450 375 320
October 1 400 330 280
October 15 350 300 240
If your stocking rate is 3.0 cows per hectare on MP in mid-September, then your average farm cover (AFC) requirement is 900kgDM/ha (3.0 x 300).
You will be aiming for highest farm covers in mid-September. But pre-grazing covers (PGC) should not be greater than 2,300kgDM; otherwise, quality will be very poor. Rotation length will now be 35 days (approx).
Use the strip wire to ration grass if covers are greater than 2,000kgDM and/or if cows are remaining in a paddock/field longer than two-and-a-half grazings, and/or if weather is wet.
Paddocks must be grazed out tight to 3.5-4.0cm:
This encourages winter tillering;
Makes it easier to graze out the last rotation; and
Sets the farm up with fewer dung-pads for winter (they rot).
Where grass demand is greater than grass growth, quality round bales and meals must be introduced, otherwise, grass will run on in late October. Most highly stocked farmers will have to feed 1-2kg meal/cow/day (citrus or soya hulls). Unless grass on the strong paddock is excessively heavy, over 2,300kgDM, 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.
Do the last rotation planner now
This is a most useful tool to ensure you have adequate grass in the diet for as long as you have planned to keep cows out. It also ensures, with the knowledge that your closing farm cover should be 550-650kgDM/ha, that you will have adequate grass next spring.
The Agrinet website has a very simple-to-use planner:
Put in the area (ha) in MP; the start of last rotation date; the date when you wish to have 60 per cent of MP grazed; and the date you plan to finish grazing;
Many farmers on wet land and in northern areas will be starting the last rotation between September 25-30. But most will not be doing so until October 5-13.
Remember: every 1kgDM/ha of grass left on paddocks in early November will result in 1.6kgDM/ha available in springtime.
Wet weather grazing
Unfortunately, farmers have not yet come to grips with this concept. 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 these conditions.
Remember a few principles about cow behaviour:
Cows eat most of their grass feed within 2.5-3 hours of each milking (so leave them out to graze for 2.5 hours after each milking and then remove them from the paddock);
Cows eat very little during the night but become active again at sunrise, probably around 6am (if it rains during the night they will have little or no 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 feet (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 is raining and always bring them in when it starts to rain);
Cows will eat 80-90 per cent of their grass allowance in two to three hours (therefore, let them out with an appetite by not feeding silage, or delay let-out by two to three hours after milking);
Soiled grass by 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); and
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); and
Heavy grass covers take too long to graze, which means cows are too long in small areas of paddocks. The pre-grazing yield should never be more than 2,000-2,300 depending on stocking rate).
The amount of nitrogen (N) you can use now depends on how you have managed your N 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 N therein.
All of your bag N must be used before September 15:
If you spread after that you are subject to penalty;
Urea should be the product of choice.
Your last day for spreading slurry is October 15. It would be a good idea to wait until October 1-15 to spread any leftover slurry because the N will make a contribution to grass growth/protection in November – a kind of anti-freeze effect.
What are the recommended rates of N in September? That depends on the stocking rate (see Table 2).
Cows per hectare Units per acre September Total units/acre for year
2.24 or less None 133-175
2.24-2.35 20 202
2.35-2.47 28 223
2.47-2.94 18 196
Table 2: Recommended rates of nitrogen for different stocking rates in September.
Low-stocked farms, with 2.24 cows per hectare or less, require no N because the N already spread and ‘background’ N is adequate to grow the amount of grass required.
Farmers with 2.47 cows per hectare (one cow per acre) should apply 28 units per acre between September 14-15 on the entire farm. Soiled water or slurry can be used in early October as a source of N.
Manipulate cow condition now
Do it now; later will be too late because it will leave you with too few options:
Cows must calve down in body condition score (BCS)
Each BCS is 40-50kg in liveweight;
To gain a kg of BCS requires 4.5kg of meal. To put on 25kg (0.5 BCS) of weight will require 113kg meal;
While dry, on normal-quality silage, a cow will only gain 1/4 BCS (12kg) in 30 days; and she will gain no BCS in the last month of pregnancy.
The target cow condition 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 in calf.
Your options for these thin cows are to:
Feed meals now, at 1-2kg per day of a low-protein/high-energy ration;
Or dry off 12-14 weeks before expected calving date;
Put on once-a-day (OAD) milking from early September.
Animal health is wealth
Prevention of animal health problems is essential to staying in business. Salmonella abortions at seven to nine months is the one disease that could put you out of business. To prevent abortions, vaccinate now, in early September, but follow instructions if doing it for the first time. The chances are in-calf heifers are being vaccinated for the first time and need two injections, three weeks apart, the second one before mid-September. This is very important because the animal has no protection for two weeks after the second injection. Therefore, she could abort.
Weanling replacement heifers should be vaccinated for leptospirosis now – this is essential.
Watch out for hoose among weanlings. Yellow/white doses will kill hoose worms and give two to three weeks’ protection, and longer with good grassland management. Other products 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. Lameness is becoming a very costly issue on farms. The following causes were identified in Australia, therefore take steps to avoid, but also take veterinary advice and get the Farm Relief Services (FRS) to carry out annual maintenance on the herd:
Poor roadway maintenance and design;
Impatience while moving cows on the roadway or in the yard;
Long periods of time spent on concrete, or cows twisting and turning on concrete yards;
Nutritional effects and effect of trace element
Infectious agents; and
Genetic factors (record all lame cows on the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation [ICBF] site).
Fluke is going to be a problem this year because of all the rain. Get your fluke dose now for dosing at housing. It is worth getting dung samples analysed (cost €50) to confirm presence of fluke (particularly for dry farms).
Mastitis is next to infertility as the reason for culling cows:
If you didn’t change liners since springtime, they must be changed now because old ones are going to cause mastitis, will result in lower yields and will be harder to clean;
Continue teat dipping at 15-20ml/cow/day; and
Identify chronic cows and cull now, otherwise they will continue to infect other cows in the herd.
Replacement heifer targets
In-calf heifers should be 73 per cent of mature cow weight now, or 380kg and 403kg for 520 and 550 mature cow herd, respectively. The equivalent weanlings should be 172kg and 183kg. Animals below these target weights should get preferential treatment, possibly 1-2kg meal/day.
Small heifers calving down will milk less (100 gallons per 100kg weight), and a higher proportion of them will not go back in-calf. Do not overfeed weanling replacements at this stage in their life:
If they gain more than 0.8kg per day from four to six months of age, they will put on too much fat;
This fat will prevent mammary gland development and, consequently, they will milk poorly.
Don’t forget their Salmonella and leptospirosis vaccines, as advised above. Hoose and stomach worms can be a problem in one-and-a-half-year-olds, so be alert.
Castrate males now
Uncastrated weanlings are not a good idea on dairy farms:
Risk of bulling strong weanling heifers.
You should get the vet to vasectomise two to four males to use to identify bulling cows next year. One is needed per 50 cows. This is a great idea.
To improve biosecurity on farms, some farmers are keeping a few of their own bull calves (EBI€200+) to mop up late bulling cows. Not a bad idea!
Non-dairy farmers should consider…
Why should non-dairy farmers consider a partnership/leasing/share-farming agreement with dairy farmers? The following may provoke discussion:
He or she will be better off financially and have greater long-term security;
He or she will have a better quality of life;
Autonomy of running their own businesses;
The family farm will be maintained to the highest standard, as it can be stitched into the agreement;
Provides the opportunity to interact with positive people;
It may help him or her to meet his/her family’s long-term goals:
Delayed successor availability in future
Pension/security issues overcome – a very serious issue for many farmers
Can help to finance family educational requirements
Sort out fragmentation or other land structural issues limiting progress;
Removes the responsibility for:
Securing farm inputs
Day-to-day running of farm;
Can have the effect of securing the farm business financially;
Cattle, tillage and sheep farmers have, historically, according to the National Farm Survey (NFS), always had lower incomes than dairy farmers; and
Non-dairy farmers should make themselves available to do contract rearing of dairy replacements.
If considering expansion or a new venture…
Use quality professionals and/or experienced, reputable dairy farmers for advice. Stick to ‘the knitting’ – that which you know best: the correct cow and a dry fertile farm are essential requirements to go with a low-cost attitude to farming. Be overstaffed for the first six months: this helps to get the business off the ground, helps to iron out teething problems, and allows you to choose the best permanent staff from your choice. Don’t move too fast:
Your focus may become overstretched;
You may become physically overstretched;
You may become financially overstretched; and
You may become mentally exhausted.
Other bits and pieces
If you can, build a ‘volatility survival fund’ by saving as much as you can now; and
Sell off cull cows now to make more grass available for milkers.
“If a shortcut was any good, it would just be the way.”