- Use grazed grass to improve a bad profit year;
- Round bale surpluses from paddocks to save on grass wastage by topping;
- You should have more than 64 per cent of your year’s nitrogen used by mid-May;
- Be serious about preventative healthcare when cash is tight;
- Put all your energy into maximising high submission rates;
- Add humour to your family workplace.
Use grass to improve a bad profit year
Grazed grass is your only chance to claw back some lost profits due to high meal and silage costs this spring. Grazed grass must have over 80 per cent dry matter digestibility (DMD) and is necessary to maximise milk yield and percentage protein from cows. The quality of grazed grass is totally dependent on grazing grass that is the correct height – pre-grazing cover (PGC) – for each individual farmer’s stocking rate. So, how do you establish your ideal PGC?
It can be calculated from your stocking rate, cow allowance and rotation length;
The stocking rate will vary from three to five cows per hectare during the period while first-cut silage is being taken;
The cow’s dry matter requirement will vary depending on her weight, milk solid (MS) production per day and whether she is gaining or losing weight. It will generally vary from 15-21kgDM/cow/day;
The target rotation length is 19-21 days on all farms but may be longer during periods of slow growth and shorter during periods of high growth rates;
Therefore, your target pre-grazing yield is a function of the stocking rate on the grazing area.
For example, at a stocking rate of 4.0 cows/ha, the target PGC for a herd average of 500kg cows, milking 2kgMS/day and gaining 0.5kg/day in weight, will be:
Stocking rate x allowance x rotation length + residual
= 4.0 x 19 x 21 + 100 = 1,696kgDM/ha.
The target pre-grazing yields increase as the stocking rate increases (and declines as it falls).
You must also watch your average farm covers (AFC). The target figure is 170-200kgDM/LU. For example, at a stocking rate of 4.0 cows/ha, the target average cover, with good grazing management, would be:
Stocking rate x 180 = 4.0 x 180 = 720kgDM/ha.
By watching both your PGC and AFC, you will be able to identify surpluses (and deficits) before they arise. You must react to a surplus by removing the surplus for baled silage – and remember that the quicker you react, the lower the cost of reaction!
If pre-grazing cover is 1,800kgDM/ha, and average farm cover is 800kgDM, you must:
(a) Remove one or two paddocks, immediately,
for round baled silage; or
(b) Bring extra stock into the cow area to graze
If pre-grazing cover is 1,600kgDM and average farm cover is 600kgDM, then it looks as if you should not remove any paddock for silage as you may be short of grass in 7-10 days. If both covers are below target you must either:
(a) Feed meals; or
(b) Graze silage ground, which is a good idea if it has not become too strong and stemmy, because grazed grass is five times cheaper than meals.
Round bale – no topping?
Tight grazing, especially in May, prevents the build-up of tall grass areas in paddocks later in the year.
When surpluses do arise, as they will, they should be taken out as round bales and fed back again to cows later in the year when grass becomes scarce or as a quality feed in late autumn or spring to reduce meal feeding levels.
This principle is intended to eliminate topping. Why?
Topping results in grass wastage. We advise grazing to 4cm in May. Many farmers are only grazing to 5cm. Remember that every extra centimetre left above target, results in 250kgDM per hectare being wasted – worth €70 in meal;
If under-grazing by 1cm every grazing rotation, usually nine per year, that means 2.25 tonnes lost per hectare, or €630/year. Topping must be carried out when the ‘tall grass’ area is greater than 25 per cent of the paddock area.
But I favour letting the paddock go above the PGC
and then cut for baled silage as it will make good winter feed.
If the tall grass area is 25 per cent in May, it will be 35-40 per cent of the paddock in June because of the fresh dung deposited during this grazing.
Tall grass is grass around dung pads and other under-grazed areas. It will be getting nitrogen (N) and not be eaten – imagine the financial loss from this.
Therefore, topping should not be on anyone’s radar.
Sixty-four per cent of nitrogen used by May 15
You won’t grow enough grass if you don’t have 64 per cent of your year’s N allowance used by the middle of May and 76 per cent used by mid-June, because there are only three applications left for the remainder of the year.
For most highly stocked farms, where they are allowed to use 226 units/acre, they should have 144 units applied by mid-May and 172 before mid-June on the whole farm;
However, more of the 144 should be on the milking platform and less on outside land parcels.
This is the month to use N.
Growth rates and responses (1kg N, costing €1.15, will grow 25-30kgDM grass, worth €50 in milk) are best;
It will enable you get most of your winter feed in the first cut (cheapest by far).
You must use N appropriate for your stocking rate:
This year, most farmers, because of weather, are far below the amount of N that should be used.
There is no significant difference in annual grass yield, or annual milk yield (unpublished work), when N is bulk spread once per month compared to spreading N after every grazing:
This allows N to be spread in bulk by a contractor; there will be no confusion as to which paddocks got N and which didn’t.
On light soils deficient in sulphur, you will grow more grass (10-50 per cent based on research).
With no restriction in sulphur use, you must use 20-30 units of sulphur from now to early September;
If using sulphur where there is copper deficiency or molybdenum antagonised deficiency, make sure to give animals a copper bolus.
Some farmers think it is a good idea to allocate 12-hour grazing blocks to cows. It is not! It is an unnecessary workload for no gain: in fact, losses!
What happens is the cows have too small a space from which to get their feed;
This results in the ‘bully’ cows hassling the timid cows, with the result that the timid cows’ intake is greatly reduced;
Heifers and shy feeders suffer similarly due to this bullying;
High-performing cows also suffer because they have to eat more grass to produce the extra milk.
Therefore, cows should be given areas that last for 24, 36 or 48-hour grazings. As well as being beneficial for the cows, it will be less laborious for the farmer.
Grass contains sugar, and it is higher in the afternoon than in the morning,
All you have to do is let the cows onto fresh grass after the evening’s milking;
Grass has a higher sugar content in the evening, after a day’s sunshine;
The longer the leaf, the greater the surface area available to trap sunshine;
Hence the need not to let cows onto fresh paddocks until the late afternoon.
Animal health – preventative care
Because of costs, many farmers have become careless in terms of preventative healthcare of animals.
It is cheap, very effective, and reduces labour, hassle and expensive veterinary bills;
You should use your vet for this purpose, but the following reminders may help.
Treat calves for blackleg.
Stomach worms will not be a problem until late June/July.
If using yellow/white dose, no treatment is necessary until then. I favour this procedure because it builds up some animal immunity and won’t lead to resistance to drugs;
With the ivermectin-type products and boluses, treatment begins now as per the recommendations of the manufacturers. If overdone, the animal may have lower immunity later in life.
Hoose has to be managed differently.
Mild weather in May can lead to an attack;
Strong calves will cough first;
Using the cheap system, when the first calf coughs dose all calves with the cheap dose and this will cure the problem and convey immunity to all calves.
Young cows (first calvers) that have low immunity may need a worm dose.
Talk to your vet about the product that has no milk-withholding period;
To save dosing costs, work on the principle of building up the animals’ immunity from the calf stage.
Magnesium is a must for cows.
Make sure they are getting at least 2oz per cow per day;
Meal is very convenient, and some co-ops have mixes that supply the quantity in 1kg meal/day. More co-ops and merchants should do this;
Dispensing automatically through the water supply is very convenient, but expensive;
Many farmers dispense it through a five-gallon drum turned upside down in the water troughs, and this is working well for moderate-sized herds;
Dusting pastures, a more widespread practice now, at 15lb per acre (6.8kg), is very convenient, and it works. It can be spread by hand or with a spinner.
Lameness in cows must be controlled at first sight of tenderness as it will cut flesh. It will seriously reduce milk yield and fertility at this time of year.
Use the Farm Relief Services hoof-care service;
Foot-bathing with copper sulphate (4kg in 100 gallons water) on three consecutive days every month may be necessary;
Check your roadways, but particularly the concrete yard section where small stones can do very serious bruising damage (they must be brushed off daily);
Avoid too much movement/hassle in the collecting yard (New Zealand work shows it causes lameness).
Your cows should not be exposed to injections, testing, freeze branding, stray electricity or hassle etc. during the breeding season.
Fertility will disimprove.
Iodine, copper and cobalt are important minerals during the breeding season.
Iodine at 1.2cc per cow per day in water (do not forget bulling heifers);
Copper in a bolus or meal are your options now;
Cobalt is only a problem on some farms.
Mastitis prevention in May revolves around:
Milking machine working correctly – when did you last test it? Change liners at 2,000 milkings (now for many farmers);
Milking routine – unfortunately, many farmers are causing mastitis by having bad milking routines. Learn through your discussion group;
No teat dip or inadequately done – as it reduces the spread of mastitis by 50 per cent, it must by done and done correctly with each cow getting 15-20cc (even over four teats) each milking. Most farmers don’t apply this amount;
Take out seriously infected cows (know by milk recording) as they infect other cows. This is a waste of money (€1,000 + per cow culled) if you don’t address the basic problem causing the trouble;
Stray electricity can be a problem on some farms and you should have it checked by an electrician;
Where somatic cell count (SCC) levels are high, a pre-milking disinfectant spray is recommended;
Large herds with mastitis problems should draft out mastitic cows and slow milkers; and milk them separate in the last row. This means no cross infection and they won’t slow up milking.
Submission rate drives high calving rates
This month is all about high submission rates for bulling and improving pregnancy rates. Submission rates are improved by doing a number of things.
Effective heat detection is disastrously bad on many farms. It is relatively simple:
Three 20-minute periods spent heat detecting combined with tail paint, Kamars, crayons or spray are the minimum recommended to detect over 90 per cent of cows. If you believe in tail paint (it is guaranteed), the job is simple;
A vasectomised bull fitted with a chin ball harness can be used after the first three weeks of the breeding season. Farmers are finding them very good at picking up heat in cows that are slow to stand;
The best times to observe cows is just before they leave the field for morning milking, and 9-10pm in the evening;
Is it worth this time? Yes, because every missed heat cost €250 – a massive loss!
Pregnancy rates will be good if cows are fed the same level energy (feed quality and quantity) for 15 days before and after service.
Therefore, keep a close eye on grass quality and quantity, particularly in wet, cold weather;
Continuous tight grazing has no adverse effect on submission rates or embryo loss.
Late calvers are a problem, because if they are not calved you can’t submit them. It is suggested you tackle late calvers, because of the financial loss, as follows:
Firstly, get them back in calf before the end of the breeding season. Breed them at 40 days post-calving – don’t wait until they are 60 or 70 days calved. Conception rates may be low, so use cheaper semen – test bull semen or a suitable stock bull;
Secondly, breed them to bulls that will ensure they calve easily after a short gestation length. Most Aberdeen Angus, Hereford sires or Jersey stock bulls meet those criteria;
Data from Moorepark shows that washing out cows that had a difficult calving or retained placenta improved their subsequent in-calf rate. Late calvers that had a difficult calving should be washed out one week after calving with 1L of a 2 per cent Lugol’s iodine solution or a homemade solution with salt.
Check your submission rates against the following targets:
End week 1 – 30 per cent submitted;
End week 2 – 60 per cent submitted;
End week 3 – 90 per cent submitted.
This is easily checked if you use different colour paint once the cow has been served. All you do is count the number of cows with new paint as a percentage of total number of cows in the herd.
If you fail to meet these targets, particularly the first week, ask yourself what is wrong;
You now must make a huge effort on heat observation for the second round. Are the cows too thin, are they grazing too tight, have they infections, are there disease or deficiency problems?
Body condition score (BCS) all cows now (mid-May and again mid-June). Any cow that is 2.75 or under should be put on once-a-day (OAD) milking. If cows are still losing weight, even if in good condition, they must be put on OAD milking.
How many AI straws to use?
Artificial insemination (AI) straws are not cheap, and some farmers have far too many replacements for herd size – they are very expensive to rear, at €1,550 per heifer. As a result, many non-expanding farmers, with fertile herds, are planning on a four-week AI season this year.
Farmers should use five AI straws for every breeding heifer they require next year.
You should use Friesian AI straws this year;
For every 50 cows, use 60 AI straws;
This is a very simple way of planning and knowing you will have adequate replacements in two or three years’ time;
If you are planning to expand you must use two straws for every cow in the herd.
Farmers who are serious about expansion and have the scope should use nothing but Friesian AI on all cows.
Don’t be afraid to use Jersey on high-yielding, infertile Holsteins as it will increase the profit of the progeny by €180+ per cow;
Keep focused on using highest Economic Breeding Index (EBI) bulls, high-fertility AI bulls that improve protein and fat by at least 0.16 per cent.
Add humour to the workplace
This spring was so challenging for farmers in so many ways, not least among them their mental health. From meeting my six groups every month since the start of the year, it is easy to see how tired and ‘worn out’ farmers have become during the past few weeks.
Our fuse gets shorter, resulting in us becoming less tolerant of mistakes and things going wrong, such as calf and cow deaths. We give out to people!
Sleep and take some time off now before the breeding season work pressure – by far the most important four weeks in the farming calendar. There is a serious need to add humour to the family-farm workplace; something we take for granted in most other workplaces. There are very few outsiders coming and going to the farm so that nobody tells jokes or stories which would lighten the atmosphere. I periodically send out funny emails to my mailing list to try and cheer people up. I would like if they told these jokes to other family members and farm workers to give people a laugh. The following, modified version of ‘no doubt a true story’ might cheer someone up.
“A woman and her ever-nagging, never-happy husband went on vacation to Jerusalem.
While they were there, the husband passed away.
The undertaker told the ‘distraught’ wife: “You can have him shipped home for €5,000, or you can bury him here, in the Holy Land, for €150.”
The woman thought about it for a second and told him she would just have him shipped home.
The undertaker asked her: “Why would you spend €5,000 to ship your husband home when it would be wonderful to be buried here and you would only spend €150?”
The woman replied: “Long ago a man died here, was buried here, and three days later he rose from the dead. I just can’t take that chance!”
Bits and pieces
To make adequate silage now that there is very little silage left over, cows must be stocked at 4.5 to 4.9 cows per hectare while cattle/heifers should be stocked at 2,500kg/hectare until the end of June.
Cut first-cut silage in two lots:
Fields closed six to eight weeks should be cut at the end of May;
Late closed (light covers) fields should be cut mid-June.
This procedure should ensure an even arrival of aftergrass and less chance of shortages in July. The secret of making good silage is to wait for dry weather and get a small wilt.
The following ‘labour saving’ suggestions may help to make your life easier:
Spread fertiliser once every four to six weeks, depending on your stocking rate, instead of after each grazing;
Milk every 16:8, or near it, instead of 12:12 milking intervals as there is no loss of milk, and this enables you finish at 6.00-6.30pm;
Give cows/cattle 36-hour or 48-hour grazing paddocks, and grass budget to reduce topping and workload;
If working really long hours and always ‘coming from behind’, then you should use contractors for fertiliser spreading, slurry spreading, silage cutting, fencing, and occasionally milking (FRS) cows;
DIY AI operators should serve cows only once per day – in the morning!;
Use a teaser bull to identify bulling cows from late May on and use a suitable stock bull to ‘mop’ up.
Continue feeding new milk to late calves until they are at least 110kg in weight so that they achieve bulling weight next year.