- Manage the last rotation carefully;
- Use the last rotation planner and measure out the area carefully;
- Avoid poaching by good management;
- October is the most important month to condition score cows;
- Weigh replacements and feed below-target ones;
- Pay the key bills;
- Meal feeding makes other human beings rich!
Last rotation management
The last rotation management is crucial in setting up the farm for next year’s grazing;
Grazing very heavy covers and/or leaving covers too high at closing will result in very poor growth until May of next year;
Its management will influence the amount of meal you will feed this side of Christmas and in the first half of next year;
Every extra kg dry matter (DM) cover left at closing increases grass availability by 12kgDM in the spring. Therefore, operate closely to the farm covers recommendations in Table 1.
Every extra day cows graze in autumn delivers €2.20 per cow per day extra profit. As the last rotation will be 45-50 days from start to finish, you must decide on your closing date. If it is November 20, then the last rotation should start on October 10.
Too many farmers are completing the last rotation too early and losing significant profits. This is particularly so for farmers who have wet land and are not well informed on wet weather grazing techniques.
The last rotation must begin on October 1-16, earliest (and probably earlier) in wet land.
If that doesn’t happen you won’t have grass next spring;
Spring is when you need grass most, as you will be trying to maintain milk yield and increase body condition as cheaply as possible;
Therefore, plan your paddock grazing strategy now.
The first paddocks to be grazed next spring must be dry; be near the milking parlour; and have 1,200-1,400kgDM/ha of grass cover. It is crazy having the most grass on paddocks furthest from the milking parlour next spring. Even though cows are lighter, time is of the essence for labour.
Therefore, they must be the first paddocks to be grazed on the last rotation.
If they haven’t enough grass on them, skip other paddocks so as to graze them in early October;
This is a simple exercise but it will save you a lot of hassle next February.
You are now on the last rotation, to finish on dry land on November 20-25 (two to three weeks earlier on wet land). Each paddock must be well grazed out to 3.5-4cm (if you leave too much grass it will result in poor pastures next year because of a lack of tillering).
You must have at least 60 per cent (preferably 70 per cent) of the grazing block grazed by November 1 (dry land); otherwise, you will be short of grass next February.
The following target covers (kgDM/ha) are suggested for different stocking rates.
2.5 cows/ha 3.0 cows/ha 3.5 cows/ha
Date Cover/cow AFC Cover/cow AFC Cover/cow AFC
Oct 1 400 1,000 380 1,150 335 1,175
Oct 15 350 880 340 1,020 285 1,000
Nov 1 280 700 275 820 240 830
Closing 550-600 600-650 700-750
Table 1: Target covers per cow and total farm cover (AFC).
If you don’t hit these covers in early October, then you will have to house earlier than November 20 and the allocated area will not have nearly enough grass daily.
This will be a disappointing loss as you would make €2.20/cow/day extra profit by being able to graze grass;
Sell off cull cows now – it’s a financial waste feeding meals with cull cows eating grass – please see September 2016 Management Hints;
Destock by drying off thin cows and heifers during the month and moving away from the milking platform.
Donal Patton’s (Ballyhaise) plan is:
Peak cover at 1,100kgDM/ha (380/cow) on October 1;
Closing cover on November 10-15 is 650; this is achieved by carrying over a few 1,500kg cover paddocks;
With compact calving and stocked at 2.5 cows/ha, cows need 750-900kgDM in spring to minimise meal input;
They start closing on October 1 and must have 70 per cent of the farm grazed by November 1;
Some paddocks they carry over will be grazed on September 25, depending on October growth, so as to meet the AFC target of 650kg;
Wet farms should not peak above 900kg (maybe 1,000kg if the operator is good, with good access), while dry farms could go as high as 1,250kg.
If you are now doing 24-hour grazings, and when you are doing once-a-day (OAD) grazings, you should let cows into the tall grass after the evening’s milking:
They will produce more milk (5-6 per cent) because sugars are highest in grass in the late afternoon.
The last rotation planner!
Most farmers are now using this planner to manage their grass for the cows every autumn. This planner will make things extremely simple and easy to keep cows out until late November, while at the same time ensuring adequate grass for letting out cows in early February.
Every farmer should use this;
It outlines the number of hectares you allow your cows each day from October 6 to November 25.
It works on the following principles:
At least 60 per cent of the grazing area must be grazed by November 1;
This is essential so as to have a long rest period for those fields to grow grass before winter, because over 90 per cent of the grass available for cows next February will have grown this October/November;
If the area allocated doesn’t give the farmer enough grass, indicated by post-grazing height, then he must supplement with meals or, preferably, very good-quality baled silage;
If there is a lot of grass in the area, post-grazing, you either measured the area incorrectly or you have not enough cows for the farm, or you are feeding silage and/or meals when there is absolutely no need.
This program is available through Agrinet. By measuring grass weekly and recording it on Agrinet, the system will ‘map’ the area eaten against the plan. It will be very easy to see if you are on track.
If, for any reason – a wet week, for instance – you cannot graze, then you will go ‘off target’ and you must graze double the amount the next week so as to finish the last rotation on the planned date.
Measuring out the allocated area
The success of the autumn planner and minimising ground damage is dependent on how well you measure the allocated area. This arises because you are rationing grass and allocating areas that are a small proportion of the paddock, particularly so when grazing large silage fields.
As herds get larger, this is a challenging task. The considerations are: the size of the area and the ‘awkwardness’ of the paddock or field; the number and position of ‘gaps’ into the paddock; and the number and position of water troughs.
As a general principle, you should allocate the area in square blocks (not always possible) because the cows do far less walking in those areas and, hence, less poaching. Long, narrow allocations are a disaster.
Many people lay it out in ‘spokes of wheel’ shape, but a lot of damage can be done at the narrow section;
This is usually done when the number of ‘gaps’ and water drinking points are limiting. In such a situation great thought needs to go into siting the daily grazing area. Mobile water drinkers, almost certainly, have to be provided where water troughs are limiting and restrict good lay-out of the area to be allocated.
Planning the siting of the fences is best done on the field map as it is a lot easier. Then go outside and measure, by walking, the required yardage.
Cows should enter the area to be grazed by one gap and go out another gap to minimise damage.
While this sounds laborious and time consuming, it is worth it. Keep the plan on each field safely for next year and then you can see the worth of doing a careful plan once.
Because the period between evening milking and morning milking is longest, you should allocate grass accordingly. It may be nine hours to 15 hours.
If your daily allocation of grass per cow is 16kg, then you should allocate approximately 10kg for night compared with 6kg for day-time.
Management to avoid poaching
Soil compaction results in the soil not being able to grow as much grass as it can or should. This results in loss of money.
You know that a poached field takes ages to recover.
How can a 4-5-inch-diameter ‘plug-hole’ in the ground, made by tractor wheels, grow grass in the subsequent rotation?
Soil structure is made up of soil, air and moisture. By poaching you squeeze out the air, so it cannot grow grass.
After the recent rains, a fair degree of poaching and compaction damage has been done:
In October, as soils are retaining more moisture, it is vital to graze carefully;
Do not graze damaged fields in the wet, as it will compound the structural damage;
Some fields may have to be ‘rested’ until March or April;
Practise on-off grazing, ie. three hours grazing after each milking and then remove to the house. They will eat 95 per cent of their grass allowance in this period if they come out with a ‘sharpness’ to their appetite;
Follow all other extensively recommended practices for grazing in difficult conditions.
Some farmers say this is laborious and adds to the workload. But it doesn’t.
You still only bring in the cows twice per day but at a totally different time (three hours after let-out);
This ‘bringing-in’ time can be made sociable by milking at 7.00 in the morning and again at 3.00 in the afternoon;
This means that the cows will be able to be brought in off the paddocks at 7.00-7.30 in late evening. They will just have finished that bout of grazing and won’t have done any walking damage.
Never, ever let cows out when it is raining and always bring them in when it starts to rain.
They do a lot more walking in the rain and, therefore, a lot more poaching;
Use the weather forecast to plan this. It might be raining in the morning but the forecast might tell you it will be dry in the afternoon. Therefore, wait to let out and don’t give them any silage.
I am not a fan of spreading slurry with a vacuum tanker because of the damage wheel compaction does to the soil.
Use the umbilical system with a ‘trailed and shoe’ spread. This is necessary because with the ‘new’ grazing wedge system there is always grass of varying heights on the farm. Spreading slurry on grass greater than 2-3 inches causes huge losses due to rotting.
Weigh replacements and act
Weighing and condition scoring of breeding stock are vital chores this month. Table 2 lists the target weights for October for the various mature weights of the breed.
Cow type Mature weight Weanling weight (37% cow weight) In-calf heifer (77% of cow weight)
Holstein 580 215 445
Holstein X Nor Red 550 205 425
Holstein X Jersey 530 195 410
Table 2: Target weights (kg) for replacement weanling and in-calf heifers in October.
Replacement heifer calves should get 1-1.5kg meal (16-18 per cent P) so as to meet target weights on April 1:
All animals below target weights must be taken away from the main mob and given priority treatment;
For every 20kg animals are below target they will need to be fed an extra 100kg meal (16+ per cent P);
This will be a profitable investment.
Small in-calf heifers need 1-2kg meal (12-14 per cent P).
Otherwise, they will calve down too light, resulting in 450L lower milk yields for every 50kg below target weight at calving;
Fewer will go in-calf during the first three weeks of breeding in 2016.
Have you injected cows and heifers for Salmonella to prevent abortions?
If any weanlings show symptoms of hoose (coughing), stomach worms (sticky dung on tail head) or fluke (scouring and other signs), have them treated as they will not maximise weight gain.
Body condition score now and act
There are six body condition score (BCS) times of the year. This is the first and probably the most important. You must set out to save money on this task this winter.
You must assess cow condition early this month. Why?
If cows calve down thin they will not readily go back in calf, and neither will they milk well next year;
For every 50kg (1 condition score = 40-50kg) below target, a cow will milk 450L of milk less than her potential.
If you have identified thin cows in October you have a few management options:
Dry off now to allow her have a long dry period to put on weight;
With 120 days to calving for February calvers, no meals will need to be fed unless cows are very thin;
Go on OAD milking now;
Feed a low-protein ration – an expensive option at a time of low milk price.
If you wait until November to deal with thin cows you have only one option – that is, feed a lot of meals during the dry period, which is inefficient.
This is the year to dry off thin cows early to allow them to put on body condition without meals. Put all cows through the cattle crush to handle cows so as to be more accurate in assessing cow condition at this time of year.
To BCS a cow, examine the fat cover on:
If you don’t know how to do it, or need an update, get your adviser or discussion group to show you:
Some farmers in groups go to each other’s farms to do this task – more objective when examining others’ cows.
The target BCS at drying off is 3.0-3.25. Generally they will calve down in same condition as dried off.
Cows with a BCS of 2.75 or less now, must be ‘earmarked’ for special attention;
As a cow has a deficit of 0.5 BCS, she is at least 25kg below target condition, therefore she will have to be fed an extra 130kg meal if meal feeding is the option you choose;
This means feeding 2kg ration/hd/day for 10 weeks – discount the first two weeks after drying off and the last two weeks before calving;
Therefore, she needs 14 weeks dry.
Which cows should be dried off from October 15 on?
Cows with a BCS below 2.75;
First lactation cow calving in January/February;
Cows milking less than 7-8L;
Cows with somatic cell counts (SCCs) greater than 300,000;
All these cows should either be housed, sold or moved to outside blocks, but off the grazing platform to allow all available grass for milking cows.
Remember, the only way to improve the body condition of high genetic merit cows, which are thin the whole year, is to give them a long dry period, starting now.
Analyses to be done
Silage should be analysed now both for dry matter digestibility (DMD) and mineral:
The DMD will inform you now as to your feeding programme for the year – this will save a lot of money;
The mineral analysis will identify the mineral status of 40-50 per cent of the grass on your farm in May/June, and will alert you as to the minerals that may be deficient in your silage for winter.
Consult your vet as to the necessary animal test; they are likely to include dung samples, blood samples and milk samples so that you can plan the various dosing programmes. Take soil samples, or a representative quantity, from many fields/paddocks, so that you can build up soil indices to 3 and 4.
Save costs; no meals!
Due to low milk price, this isn’t the year to spend money on meal. First things first, no animal should get meal that doesn’t need it:
No animal should get meal that doesn’t give an economic response to that extra cost;
Question seriously which animal, what and how much meal you feed this October.
Replacement heifers, weanlings and in-calf heifers that are below target should get 1-1.5kg meal so as to meet target weights on April 1.
No other weanlings or heifers need meal.
Meals to cows: yes or no? Firstly, let us outline what research says:
Every 1c/L spent on meal results in farm costs being 1.6c/L higher – imagine, 60 per cent more than the cost of the meal;
When grass is adequate, for every kg of meal (=25c) fed you get 0.77kg milk (=20c). Is that justified? Merchants benefit!
This is a pretty clear message!
It is more economical to take other courses of action to build up grass this year than feeding extra meals. Quality bales are the solution.
Some farmers are feeding soya hulls to cows and doing well. It makes the venture more economical because it is lowish-cost. Autumn calvers should get 3-4kg meal if grass is plentiful.
Feed 7-8kg meal if grass is scarce and you wish to keep grass in the diet until November.
Expenses you must pay
You must pay the following:
Public liability insurance;
Home/property insurance (obvious);
Medical insurance (medical bills can be massive);
Death policies (if you don’t want to leave huge problems on your death);
Car/tractor oil change, plus tyres (don’t let them seize up);
Income tax (you don’t want the hassle);
Dry cow mastitis tubes for all cows (high cure rate);
Personal medical expenses;
Home food (obvious);
I’m not saying not to pay other bills, because you must.
Use soiled water and/or slurry at 1,000-1,500 gallons per acre up to October 15 to get grass growth from the nitrogen contained therein;
I covered the EU 14c/L reduction scheme last month and the advice hasn’t changed;
I’m pretty sure you should get the Farm Relief Service to treat your herd for lameness, particularly if you have a history of it. At the very least, walk the cows through a footbath for three consecutive days once or twice per month;
While most farmers will, and should, cut back on maintenance work, you should at the very least do a check on what should be done and do necessary tasks that cost little or nothing;
Assemble your cash income and payments for the year so that you can plan your tax bill.