OUTWINTERING DRY dairy cowsis proving a viable way to lift profit and cows are happier and healthier, too, believes an Irish producer.

Diarmuid Lynch is outwintering his 300-cow dairy herd at Minane Bridge, Co Cork. He told delegates at the conference in Limerick that grazing 365 days of the year, supplemented with big bale silage, had increased profit through eliminating feed, slurry and repair costs.

“Having stock out for 365 days eliminates sheds, silage, slurry and stress.” He reckons all producers stocked at 2.2LSU/ha (0.89/acre) could get 40% of their herd winter grazing. He estimates that’s worth an extra 7 cents/gal (1p/litre).  Mr Lynch said outwintering had allowed him to expand his herd – and could again – without having to pump money into concrete and sheds. It has also improved labour efficiency and given him more time to spend with his young family.

He believed the starting point was a change in mindset. “March grazing can be horrendous, but producers can do it, so why not in December? Look at it as extending what is done now, but don”t touch spring grazing with dry cows.”

His cows spent their first Christmas at grass in 2000 on a wintering block of 22ha (54 acres) four miles from the 121ha (300-acre) home farm. Cows are walked to this block for the winter to save transport costs.

Because grass quality is crucial for winter grazing, the winter block got a kick-start in March/April. Youngstock were used to graze it down quickly. This improved tillering better than mowing, said Mr Lynch.

A cut of silage is taken in early/mid-July, baled and wrapped then stacked in the middle of the field to reduce bird damage. Fertiliser is applied in August when rain is expected, last year at a rate of 63kg/ha of nitrogen (50 units/acre) plus a dressing of 0:7:30.

The bales are fed during winter to eke out grazing and put flexibility into the system, supplying 5kg of DM a head a day to supplement the 6kg of DM from grazed grass.

He uses a double wire of electric fencing to mark out grazing blocks to avoid break outs when cows congregate in corners. He advised always allocating a square grazing block. Experience proves that this dramatically cuts damage caused by poaching.

“It boosts grass use from 45% to 75%. It”s also important to stay away from ring feeders and move cows daily.” After five years, only 6ha (15 acres) have had to be reseeded.

In winter, his daily work routine begins at 8.30am, when Mr Lynch drives to the block to move wires and cows or open silage bales. He said cows should file past to a fresh bite in pairs or singly so they could be inspected. When they stampeded it meant they were being underfed.

“Cows have a long reach, so watch tomorrow”s grazing and boundary ditches – when the poorest grass is cleared out, you are under<00AD>feeding. Monitor allocation.

“Four hours after they”ve been given a fresh bite, cows should be lying down and chewing cud. Dry cows can eat their maintenance requirements in three hours, so at this point there should be 10% of grass left and cows looking content.”

Regularly monitoring body condition is important and Mr Lynch advised other producers to use their discussion groups to keep them on track. “You can”t expect cows to graze throughout winter and put on huge amounts of condition. When they are given 12kg DM a head, they will only gain 0.25-0.3 in condition score.”

Mr Lynch is now looking to reduce his costs still further by introducing brassicas and stubble turnips as winter feed and by calving 99% of the herd outdoors. He hopes to drill 10% of the farm to root crops, growing feed to support 75% of the herd.