Grazing needs to take priority over silage
By Richard Allison
GRASSLAND management is being fully tested this season due to foot-and-mouth, a late spring and variable growth rates resulting from alternating wet and dry spells.
Recent rain has prevented a drought in many dairying areas, according to Pasture into Profit consultant Paul Bird.
"Lack of rainfall was becoming critical in some areas with growth rates struggling to reach 20kg DM/ha."
But the surge in grass growth after rain may catch some producers out, particularly when it follows a dry spell. Swards exceeding 2800-3000kg DM/ha should be closed up for silage to avoid feeding cows low quality grass, he says.
Growth rates have recovered back to 70kg DM/ha on Kim Pettys Pembrokeshire unit following 76mm (3in) of rain. "Second cut is now looking good and will be ensiled in two weeks."
However, some swards have deteriorated after five grazing cycles. Cows are now grazing high quality silage aftermaths, while grazing paddocks are either being topped ready for autumn grazing or closed for silage.
"Milk production has been good this year with cow yields exceeding 20kg/day at five months into lactation on grass alone. The rain arrived just in time and current grass growth should carry grazing well into August."
However, Mr Bird is concerned the rapid slow down in growth during the dry spell and poor first cut yields have tempted some producers to close extra areas for second cut silage at the expense of grazing.
"Focus on grazing instead of second and third cut silage, otherwise you will have to buy in more feed later this summer."
Dorset producer Clyde Jones is trying to keep his focus on grazing. But he was also desperate for rain because growth virtually stopped at 17kg/ha DM. "Compound fertiliser was applied just after the rain at 125kg/ha to kick-start growth."
His priority now is to ensure spring calving cows get back in calf by avoiding excessive body condition loss. This is being achieved by ensuring adequate energy is available and challenging cows less.
Cows are yielding 25-26kg from grazing and 5kg of a rolled wheat and maize gluten mix. Milk output did fall earlier this summer, but has now recovered, he adds.
"Autumn calving cows are being used to clean up stalky areas of grass and to provide them roughage. Hopefully, there will be adequate grass when they calve to avoid feeding too much silage because yields of first cut silage were 5% lower than last year." *
• Recovering following rain.
• Dont sacrifice grazing areas for silage.
• Prepare swards for autumn.