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Managing the famine to the feast

April has been a difficult month to trudge through due to the sometimes unmanageable weather, though higher temperatures and longer days lately have seen grass-growth rates increase and ground conditions become more manageable. 

Balancing grass demand and supply is always a challenge, but it is very important to maintain energy to the cow at the point of conception and to maintain the quality in the grass moving forward. As growth rates go beyond 50kg per day, we move beyond demand and start to generate a surplus. Not seeing this surplus being generated, or not managing it, can lead to the cow suffering through reduced production or reduced fertility. On the other side, silage may be produced or grass quality reduced.

Start, or continue, to measure grass and then live on the edge of supply and demand. This will ensure that you are retaining grass quality and cows are receiving what they need. One ‘worst-case scenario’ is that you take out some paddocks growing three to four weeks for high quality silage. Another is that a weather event happens and you have to feed this silage back into the system. The largest issues we see in InTouch in June are cows not maintaining yield, low proteins, or repeats. These are mostly caused by poor management of grass, both at this time of year and beyond. 

Preparing for silage making is also on the horizon and, before you do what you have always done, have one last look at the silage analysis for last year and how it fed. Ground is set, fertiliser is out and the silage is waving at us in the field, but are there still things we can do to help improve the outcome? Below are some points:

  • Cut earlier in the month to increase quality (check for nitrogen).
  • Cut early in the day to maximise wilt time.
  • Cut to a height of 6-7cm.
  • Rapid wilt is ideal to achieve a dry matter of 28-32 per cent. 
  • Using a tedder or rake can speed up wilt, but make sure the unit is set to the right height to avoid collecting soil.
  • Chop to 2.5-5cm.
  • Apply a proven silage additive to aid preservation and maximise retention of nutrients.
  • Consolidate the silage quickly, side sheet walls with plastic (regardless of walls or not) and compact but avoid repeating the morning after.. 
  • Seal effectively. 

We are now moving from a famine scenario to a feast scenario and the management of the grass and grass silage at the right time is important. While there will still be plenty of grass and grass silage to eat over the next year, by not managing them properly we can lose 20-30 per cent in quality and a further 20-30 per cent in quantity. This is a great inefficiency in any business.