20 February 1998

FIRST IN IRISH UNITS MILK POLICY…

Before quota, Mr Meehan fed 1.5t of concentrate a cow and milked for 305 days a year. Now he only feeds 250-500kg of concentrate and 2-2.5t of silage a cow, and milks for 240 days. However, it is important to have some silage in store in case of grass shortages or when it is very wet, he says.

Mr Meehan spent eight to nine years developing his rotational grazing management and extending the grazing season, starting slowly with an extra week of grazing at each end of the season.

Yields at 4700 litres a cow are not high, but cows should be allowed to produce what they can on grazed grass with a little concentrate, he says.

"We are not worried about what cows yield, but how cheaply we can produce milk. The more cheaply we can produce our quota, the more money we have left for ourselves."

Concentrates are fed from calving to mid-May at 1kg a cow a day, and in the autumn at 1kg a cow to supplement grass when necessary to keep cows milking well, until drying off which is usually at the beginning of November. Cows may also be fed concentrate or silage in a drought, adds Mr Meehan.

Calving is timed to match grass growth, so begins on Feb 20 and lasts about 10 weeks, finishing by the end of April. Once cows start calving, they are taken from away land to the home farm and graze day and night on fields not grazed since early October.

Mr Meehan invested £5/m (£1.50/ft) in a track through the main 6.5ha (16-acre) grazing field, which is fenced with electric wire and provides two access points to each paddock. Paddocks are split when there are just a few cows milking. However, some fields are 0.25-0.5 mile (0.4-0.8km) from the milking parlour, so cows have to walk on the road.

"Grazing in summer is on a 14 to 16-day rotation. If we left grass for 21 to 28 days, it would be too high, and if we put on nitrogen there would be too much grass.

"In the past a lot of nitrogen was used to make silage, but now we dont need as much silage, summer nitrogen has been cut back. Now only enough nitrogen is applied to grow grass to the required height, saving on tractor operations."

But nitrogen is applied to encourage grass growth in the autumn. "Nitrogen is applied from mid-August, with 35 units/acre in October and 15-20 units/acre maximum in November to prevent grass burning.

"We also found that by putting on a small amount of nitrogen late in the autumn, the grass keeps growing and doesnt seem to suffer winter kill."

Milking continues until the farm has filled its quota – last autumn cows were milked until the end of November, explains Mr Meehan.

Cows spend their winter dry, and are grazed away from the main farm on 30ha (75 acres), allowing grass at the home farm to grow for spring grazing.

Grass on the winter grazing block is built up from mid-July to support the cows on a rotational grazing system until calving. In spring it is grazed by replacements until mid-May, then 50kg/ha (40 units/acre) of N is applied on 18ha (45 acres) which is closed for a cut of silage in mid-July.

In poor winter conditions cows are fed silage and put on a sacrifice area. When grass runs short, the grazing area is halved and cows are offered silage.

"Once cows get used to cold winter days they graze happily provided that is the system they are reared on as weanlings. They will even graze through snow." &#42

Liam Meehan focuses on low cost production and has a two month break from milking each winter.

LOWERING COSTS

&#8226 Graze 11 months a year.

&#8226 Rotational grazing management.

&#8226 Shorter lactations save concentrates.