Farmer Focus: Longer grass rotation works in dry weather

“Farmers are never happy” is a phrase that is often thrown at us by those outside the sector in relation to weather, but the reality is that farmers simply don’t like extremes.

Weather extremes are a bigger obstacle each year, it appears, as “normal” conditions for planting crops, grass growth or harvesting are relentlessly challenged.

The early dry spell this season has put pressure on our summer grass growth. Up to half of the cows’ diet has been supplemented over the past three weeks.

See also: How £2.5m dairy unit is improving dry cow management

A welcome drop of rain has reduced the soil moisture deficit to 20mm, but ground conditions are still very firm and dusty. Every bit of precipitation will be needed as we head into the driest month of the year.

Our plan to lengthen the grazing rotation early on to about 24 days, graze off the steeper slopes of the farm and try to conserve cover on the parts of the farm that could grow, has worked well, as the response to rain has been very rapid.

Different areas of the farm are far from equal and need special management. For us this means tailoring our grazing to the areas that can cope the best at different times of the year.

We’re very glad of the steeper, well-drained slopes for early spring grazing, but they’re the first to burn in the summer.

Soil structure and type are the chief factor in dividing the farm into different management programmes. Trying different grass varieties or species to find out what copes best will be key.

We are very fortunate to have excellent research facilities here in Ireland, such as Teagasc and University College Dublin, that are focused on bringing practical working solutions to newer challenges that the agricultural sector faces.

Multispecies swards and their role in animal production systems and the environment are currently being explored by the SmartSward project at UCD, and Teagasc has been trialling multispecies swards on its research farms in both Moorepark and Johnstown Castle.

Early results are promising in terms of nitrogen requirement and drought resistance, but to get farmers buying into them we need to know about persistence, and how best to manage on individual farms.

Gillian and Neil O’Sullivan are dairy farmers from southern Ireland. Read more.