28 November 1997

Winter grazing is route to lifting profit margins

DRY cows will graze grass for most of the winter on an Irish farm where grazing – and profit – has been extended gradually over the past five years.

Pat OShaughnessy told British dairy farmers on an Axient study tour last week that he would dry off his spring calved cows at Jointer Farm, Glin, Co Limerick, at the end of November. He would do this, despite an average yield of eight litres, to keep within his quota. Heifers from the 125-cow herd were dried off in early November to allow them longer to improve body condition.

Irish milk producers must lease quota with land and for this reason Mr OShaughnessy believes it is uneconomic to keep cows milking on concentrate and silage through the winter to fill leased litres. His cows will, therefore, average 4200 litres in about 260 days.

"About 70 cows in good condition will be out-wintered on grass silage. "Cows at a lower condition score, and heifers that need to gain weight, will be housed by night and continue to graze a fresh block of land each day until mid-January," he says. Grazing time is restricted, with cows brought in after a few hours on wet days to avoid poaching. However, on very wet days stock can be kept in and fed silage.

Winter grazing is possible because a red sandstone track provides good access to fields. A narrow track is run along the side of the field to provide access to grazing blocks without walking over the rest of the paddock. These narrow walkways can be used for two or three days in wet weather, he says.

His 60 in-calf heifers will also graze until the end of December. They will be housed by night and fed a big bale of silage to supplement three hours grazing from a fresh square block of grass each day.

Five years ago Mr OShaughnessy cut 100ha (250 acres) of grass for silage, but rotational grazing has allowed the season to be extended and reduced the silage area to just 24ha (60 acres).

This simple grass-based production system has allowed him to increase profit, he says. Concentrates are only fed when cows need to gain condition and total use is down to 100kg a cow.

Although he will spend his winter moving fences for cows, Mr OShaughnessy will have little feeding, scraping slurry and no milking to do until cows begin to calve on Feb 10. &#42

A narrow track running along the side of the field provides access to grazing blocks without walking over the rest of the paddock.