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Matt Ryan

Management Hints

May 2023


  • Milk price decrease = 15c/L; a reduction of €800 to €1,100 per cow;
  • Manage all cost downwards to survive;
  • Know the costs of other feeds relative to grazed grass;
  • Plan to maximise silage stocks from your farm with a big first cut;
  • Grow more grass by careful management;
  • Apply 64% of your annual nitrogen before May 31; and
  • Check submission and conception rates and scan all ‘would be’ pregnant cows 30 days post AI.


Milk price predictions: down 15+ c/L from last year! In 2022, farmers in my groups had an average milk price of 65.04c/L, ranging from 51c/L (due to fixed milk price) to 70c/L. Therefore, they will do well to average 50c/L this year. As a result, milk cheques will reduce by €800-1,100 per cow; in many cases, the decrease will average €835/cow for a milk yield of 5,566 L/cow.

    • Teagasc, for 2023, predicts that some costs will be higher than 2022. Farmers in my groups had average costs of 40.86c/L in 2022; some as high as 52c/L where a lot of the farm was leased. Unless farmers do something about costs, they will be in serious trouble.
    • The result will be that farmers profits will reduce by 10-12c/L this year! A sobering outcome to pay tax, make repayments and provide living expenses. A good enough reason to do something now about that prediction, however gloomy.
    • Many silage pits are totally empty; Teagasc predicts a winter fodder shortage on many dairy farms next winter.
    • Fertiliser use, particularly P and K, is greatly reduced.
      And many farmers are now using inadequate quantities of N, while not having enough clover to compensate. The consequences are we are growing a lot less grass. Consequently, we are feeding huge amounts of imported meal at five to six times the cost of grazed grass.
    • Each tonne of grass utilised is worth €250/ha profit.
    • No matter how expensive fertiliser is, you have no business being in farming unless you use the advised levels of N, P, K and lime – the return on money spent on fertiliser is 152%.


  • You must remain positive, reduce costs and make every effort to increase the quantity and value of your sales.
  • Knowledge is power – use the knowledge imparted in these notes to guide you some of the way.
  • Being positive will make it easier to cope; a negative attitude will result in poor decisions:
    • Don’t spend all your time bemoaning what the co-ops and others are NOT doing for you;
    • Talk and keep in contact with positive people;
    • Make sure your Discussion Group is very active this year and, if you are not already in one, join one;
    • Attend as many Teagasc farm walks as possible (Moorepark Open Day is on July 4) because they will help to keep you totally focused on the things you should do;
    • Trust and consult your adviser/consultant on all cost savings issues on an ongoing basis;
    • Talk to your bank manager when you have a plan and they will work with you.
  • Try not to become too stressed:
    • Stress will only make things worse;
    • The present situation is not your fault;
    • Think of all the good things you have done and the good things you have, e.g. your health, your family, friends, community etc.;
    • Remember, things have been bad in farming in the past and we have come through;
    • Don’t bottle things up inside – talk to your family and friends about your concerns;
    • Talk to your adviser and analyse the situation with them;
    • Take small off-farm breaks, for example, hill walks, matches, films – try to get off the farm at least once per week.
  • On the operational side of things, farmers must be proactive on doing what delivers cost savings for the remainder of the year and on cost-effective investments that deliver most profit:
    • A cost control plan is a must so that you reduce all costs by
      0.2-2c/L. Get your adviser/consultant to help you with this.
    • You have to get cows in-calf with the best AI bulls – unless you have good reason to change the start of calving date – many farmers are now calving, inadvertently, too early.
    • You have to grow more grass than ever for the remainder of the year so that you feed less meal, no excuse for feeding more than 1-2kg now with all the grass available from now and make more silage. 
  • If you are not going to leave farming, you must learn from the past, stop talking about how bad it was and move on to solutions.


Recently, Brendan Horan, Moorepark, addressed this subject for one of my groups. He estimates that grazed grass costs approximately €120 per tonne dry matter (DM) grown, (including a land cost).

To make the point he compared the various grass/forage options in relative costs to grazed grass per energy utilised, giving grazed grass a score of 1.0. The following makes interesting reading, comparing all others to the relative cost of grass:

    • Grazed grass = 1.0
    • Grazed grass + white clover = 0.6
    • Pit silage = 3.3
    • Baled silage = 3.7
    • Red clover pit silage = 2.7
    • Red clover x 3 cuts = 3.1
    • Maize silage = 3.2
    • Fodder beet = 2.8
    • Purchased rolled barley (fresh at €390/t) = 5.2
  • Take the time to indelibly imprint these relative costs on your brain cells so that you make your most logical and economically justifiable decisions from now to year end…and every year!


  • There are several options to providing enough winter feed for the stock you plan to have next winter:
    • Rent silage group now – do your sums as prices are outlandish.
    • Buy reasonable quality bales silage.
    • Do a contract with a tillage farmer for maize.
    • Insert, on your winter feed budget, the inclusion of cheap meal to supplement silage.
    • Carry over no surplus/unwanted stock.
    • Reduce overall farm stocking rate – this is not the year to be over-stocked on the milking platform (MP), target is 2.7-2.9 cows/ha, or on the overall farm, target being 2.2-2.6 cows/ha.
    • Maximise silage being made on your own farm – this is where you have most control.
  • How do you maximise silage stocks off your own farm? It is driven by the area you allow cows, calves and heifers for grazing, which must be a high stocking rate this year, as follows:

Animal type/hectare

April – May

June – July

August – September


4.4 to 4.7

3.6 to 3.8

2.7 to 2.9

Liveweight of heifer (kg)








Measuring grass is a big distraction without making this grassland plan first, as it will result in you making more baled silage, and not making enough winter feed.

By multiplying the number of animals, you have by the suggested stocking rates for each period, you know the total grazing area required for all stock. Subtract this from your total farm size and you will know how many hectares of first and second cut silages you can take off your own farm.

    • There is a lot of grass on the grazing areas at present, therefore, it provides you with a great opportunity to close off a large area for pit silage. Therefore, you must stock cows at 4.7 cows/ha on the milking platform (MP) – every 100 cows need 21-22ha for grazing during late April-May.
    • A big first cut:
      • Saves expenses on winter feed costs.
      • Results in the need for less second-cut – this is so important on dry farms subject to summer drought.
      • As you can see from above, pit silage is a lot less expensive than baled silage – another way to save on costs.
  • Fertiliser: empty all slurry tanks at the rate of 2,500 gallons
    per acre:
    • Apply two units N/day closed/acre, discounting for N in slurry (5 units per 1,000 gallons) and residual N (approx. 30%) from N previously applied for grazing.
    • Too many silage fields are low in P and K, being Index 1 or 2 and must get three to four bags 0:7:30 to maximise yields. 


  • Once you have done your grassland plan as per above, two factors drive grazing management: pre-grazing cover (PGC) and post grazing height (PGH).
    • PGC is determined and measured using the Grass Wedge in the Agrinet or the PastureBase programmes.
    • Post grazing height should be 3.5-4cm. 
  • For a farm stocked at 4.5 cows/ha on the milking platform, with a cow demand of 18kg DM, on a 20-day rotation and grazing down to 50cm residual, the target pre-grazing cover (PGC) will be:

Stocking Rate x Allowance x Rotation Length + Residual 

= 4.5 x 18 x 20 + 50 = 1670kg DM/ha.


  • The target PGC increase as the stocking rate increases (and declines as it falls).
  • You must also watch your average farm covers (AFC). The target figure is 160-200kg DM/lu. For example, at a stocking rate of 4.5 cows/ha, the target AFC, with good grazing management, would be:

Stocking Rate x 180 = 4.5 x 180 = 810kg DM/Ha.

  • By watching both your PGC and AFC, you will be able to identify impending surpluses (and deficits) before they arise. You must react to a surplus by removing the surplus for baled silage – and remember the quicker you react, the lower the cost of reaction!
  • If PGC is higher than target and AFC is also higher than target, you must:
  1. Remove one or two paddocks, immediately, for round baled
  2. Bring extra stock into the cow area to graze out
    paddocks; or
  3. Reduce meal levels.
  • If PGC is lower than target and AFC is also lower than target you are likely to:
  1. Go into a downward tailspin;
  2. You should introduce meals/quality bales; or
  3. Graze some of silage ground if not too strong. This may have to be pre-cut to get good utilisation or strip graze small allowances per day.
  • If PGC is higher than target and AFC is also lower than target, you should:
  1. Continue grazing the high covers; or 
  2. Pre-cut to maximise utilisation.
  • If PGC are lower than your targets and the AFC are higher than your targets and if growth rates are good, then (unless a lot lower) you should be safe enough.
  • The key is to measure at least once/week but twice/week if you are making adjustments.
  • Use a plate meter/discussion group to train your eye to the post grazing heights advised. Managing PGH is a key grassland management skill, because:
    • Leaving high PGHs is a waste of grass, because every 1cm above 4cm is equal to 250kg DM/ha – that would feed 14 cows for one day! If that’s your system and you undergraze to 5cm on seven rotations, then you are wasting 1.75 tonnes DM grass/ha, worth €780 in meal saving.
    • High PGH leads to more stem in subsequent grazing rotations – hence, quality decreases.
    • That grass left behind will not be available for grazing next time; as the plant starts three new leaves it rots, leaving a sour butt.
    • Poor tillering results.
    • Good graze-outs result in no topping – now a badge of honour as you save on labour and diesel.
  • A key principle to remember: a grass plant has three leaves and during the key grass growing season a new leaf develops every six to seven days.
    • When there is ‘great growth’ a new leaf comes up every six days; hence, rotation lengths should decrease to 17-18 days.
    • To hit the target PGSs for cows stocked at 4.5 cows/ha (planned above) you will have to be on 20/21-day rotation – if less, you will be grazing covers where the third leaf isn’t fully grown/extended.
    • People say that to let covers go to 1,600-1,700, quality decreases sharply. I don’t agree:
      • Even on silage fields at the latter stages of heading out, the DMD decreases by 0.5 units per day – a widely quoted fact!
      • In May, growth rates on farms will average 70kg DM/ha/day. Therefore, the strongest paddocks will be growing at more than 150 per day – grass grows grass.
      • Therefore, in one day, the paddock you will be grazing will have grown from 1,500 to at least 1,650, for miniscule loss in quality and maybe a small loss of milk yield.
      • But life is all about compromise. If you forego that 150kg DM/ha on eight rotations that means you have lost 1,200kg DM/ha of grass over the whole farm. With every extra tonne giving a farm profit of €250/ha, you have lost €375/ha or €15,000 on a 40ha farm.
      • With restricted availability of N to grow grass, we will have to use photosynthesis working on larger leaves to make up the deficit.


  • Use protected urea as your N source. Most farmers will be using 25 to 35 units/acre of N in May.
  • Follow your fertiliser plan and use little or no nitrogen on clover swards but one bag 0:7:30 after every second grazing.
  • To grow 14 tonnes/ha DM on milking platform, you will require 250-260 units N/acre.
    • Background N in soil plus slurry plus clover will reduce this.
    • For Moorepark’s, Grass Clover 150 system you will be using 9kg N/ha for each of the third and fourth grazing rotations (7-8 units/acre) in May; 
    • For Moorepark’s Grass Clover 250 system you will be using 30kg N/ha for each of the third and fourth grazing rotations (24 units/acre) in May.
  • You won’t grow enough grass if you don’t have 64% of your year’s nitrogen allowance used by the middle of May and 79% used by early June, because there are only three applications left for the remainder of the year. Not adhering to this principle will guarantee you won’t have enough silage.
  • This is the month to use nitrogen. Growth rates and responses now (1kg N costing €1.50 will grow 25-30kg DM grass, worth €26 in milk produced) are best.
  • On light soils deficient in sulphur, you will grow more grass (10%-50%, based on research). With no restriction in sulphur use, you must use one unit of sulphur for every 12 units of N used. If using sulphur on copper deficient or high molybdenum farms antagonised deficiency, make sure to give animals a copper bolus.
  • Cows should be given areas that last for 24, 36, or 48 hours' grazing. As well as being beneficial for the cows, it will be less labourious for the farmer.
  • Grass contains sugar, and it is higher in the afternoon than in morning.
    • All you have to do is let the cows into fresh grass after the evening’s milking.
    • Because grass has a higher sugar content in the evening, after a day's sunshine she milks better because she has more feed energy.
    • The longer the leaf, the greater the surface area available to trap sunshine.


  • Breeding and fertility management were discussed in detail last month. Read notes again.
  • Therefore, we now need to check that everything is going to plan. Basically, that is, that you are submitting the expected numbers of cows for AI each week to meet the 90% three-week target, and that repeats are along expected lines also. See Tables 1 and 2. At the very least, make these checks at the end of each week but better to do it daily.

Table 1: Herd check on submission rates.




Your Herd


% Herd Served

100 Cow Herd

Target Numbers

Actual Numbers

End 1st week





End 2nd week





End 3rd week





  • If you haven’t or are not meeting those targets, you need to act fast or you will pay the consequences in delayed calving next year.
    • If less than 4-5 cows/day per 100 cows are being AI’d, then something is wrong.
    • Talk to your vet or adviser for solutions.
  • Are conception rates or Non-Return Rates (NRR) along expected lines?
    • You should be hitting NRR of 60%+; that means not more tan 12 cows per 100 cow herd should be repeating per week;
    • The daily check is better, less than two (2) per day, as you are more on top of trends.
    • Again, talk to your vet or adviser if a problem exists. The causes of poor NRR’s, as discussed by Stephen Butler (Moorepark) were outlined in the March Hints.

Table 2: Herd Check on Conception Rates/Non Return Rates (NRR)




Your Herd


% Herd Served

Not Repeating

100 Cow Herd Number Cows Repeating

Target Numbers

Expected to Repeat

Actual Numbers

End 4th week





End 5th week





End 6th week





  • 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 OAD milking for a short time. If cows are still losing weight, even if in good condition, they must be put on OAD milking.
  • Cows that have been served 30+ days and appear ‘to have held’.
    • This will confirm pregnancies.
    • It will help to identify cows you thought were pregnant and are not.
    • It will also identify poor pregnancies – these are unlikely to be identified at the next due heat day.

With this information you will be able, with the help of your vet and scanner, to put these cows in calf in three to five days. Sounds like a big job – it is not!

      • Batch cows by week of AI’ing into week one, two, and three..
      • Easily done with collars but if you use tail paint, raddle mark AI’d cows across the shoulder, each week with a different colour.
      • Then week one will be scanned on day 35 after MSD; week two scanned day 42 after MSD and week 3 will be scanned day 49 after MSD.
      • Many farmers are now doing these scans to very good effect.
  • Vasectomised bulls: They are invaluable, as they work 24/7.
    • Use a correct fitting chin ball with the correct paint, which must be topped up after every 10-15 heats.
    • Remember, it is only the paint marks on top of the back that count – young bulls, during courtship, will mark cows on the side; this is not a heat.
    • Don’t use him until 2 or less cows are repeating per day,
  • Stock Bull Management: you know I don’t favour their use – obviously, with collars you have no need for them. But if you have to use them, introduce and monitor them with care.
    • Lame bulls will malfunction.
    • Young bulls need more feed and time off as they use up more energy.
    • Of course, he should have been vaccinated and fertility tested.
    • For the first 7-10 days, post AI, after introducing the bull, continue to AI all repeats so as to avoid a ‘lull’ in calving during that transition period next year – the bull has to ‘settle in’.
    • For 120-cow herd and 3 weeks AI you require 2 mature bulls; for the same number of cows and 6-week AI you need 1 mature bull or 2 young bulls.
    • In order to monitor him, use a chin ball or continue tail painting the cows.

Bits and Pieces

  • Silage reminders:
    • If possible, split the 1st cut cutting dates so that some aftergrass comes in 20-27 June.
    • Wilt silage, if possible, to ensure good preservation.
    • Post 1st cut, apply 50 units N/acre for grazing and 70-80 units N plus 2 bags 0:7:30 or equivalent P & K for 2nd cuts. Use slurry if available (1000 galls equals one bag 5:5:30); spread immediately after cut, delaying N application for one week.
    • Light calves should be kept on milk replacer until they are
      110 kgs for weaning and fed 1-2 kgs meal (18% P) until they catch up.
    • Calves that are 110+ kg now should be off meals.
    • Monitor calves and heifers that are with contract rearer; R1s should be 110-120kg now while R2s should be 330-360kg now depending on breed.
    • In the agreement with contract rearer you should get animal weights every two to three months so as not to have problems on collection if too light.
    • Because contract rearing and, for that matter, rearing replacements is very expensive, you should only rear 20-22% replacement units. 
    • Stocking rate band 3; greater than 6,313L per cow in 2023. You may have taken this option. 
    • If your average milk yield/cow in May is greater than 28.7L, then you will fall into Band 3 for stocking rate. Take steps to manage.


“For every animal displaced from the Irish beef herd, seven to eight tonnes of carbon will be added to global emissions"–

Paul Crossan, Teagasc.