Farmer Focus: Practical steps to keep grazing on track

August brought high levels of rainfall, which in itself is nothing new, but this year was accompanied by lower temperatures, strong winds and even storms Ellen and Francis.

All of this led to a sticky two-week period for grazing with cows, due to both the weather and the reduced dry matter (DM) content of grass.

We have experienced a drop in production as a result, but our free-draining soils meant there was no need to house cattle at night, and with good grass growth, meal is still at minimal levels (1kg a head a day) and no silage has been fed since the dry spell in June – grass is still king.

See also: How to maximise your farm’s spring or autumn reseed

Maximising grass intake and utilisation is the goal, and if this is taken care of, production and profit almost look after themselves.

September is a really important grazing month as paddock clean-out must remain excellent while grazing higher covers in potentially inclement weather.

Focusing on some key things can make this more achievable, as we have learned both from the expert tutelage of my father-in-law Michael, and from our own (mis)adventures.

First, have a plan. We earmark dry weather and wet weather paddocks, complete an overall grass budget for the month, and stick as much as possible to the required rotation length.

Getting these allocations right is key to utilisation, and being aware of grass DM as the weather changes is important.

An average 550kg cow needs 17kg DM of grass. Under wet conditions, if grass is at 11% DM she will have to consume 154kg of fresh grass, while if the weather has been dry and grass DM is 18% her required grass intake is only 94kg.

Small details can help too. Creating extra access points to paddocks will pay off in reducing grass soiling or poaching of grazed ground.

One of our best investments of recent years was the Batt-Latch timed gate release device. It releases the gate handle at a pre-set time, avoiding cows poaching grass near the field entrance, especially in the early morning.

Despite all the tricks in the book, mother nature will still surprise us. Let’s just hope storms Aidan and Bella (the first named storms of the 2020-21 season) don’t show up.

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