We are minding Colm and Elaine’s dogs while they are on honeymoon in Italy.

They like to see a video of their loyal pets every few days. I usually do this when I let them out to one of the fields by the house in the morning. A comment returns fairly quickly not so much about the dogs but about the field where the dogs are running about.

“The Big Field looks horrendous Mom! Any rain in the forecast?” My stock answer has been “Nothing there for at least two weeks!”

The funny thing is that the two weeks has been a constant for several weeks. Any rain in the forecast was pushed away as it got closer. We had seven weeks without rain. Grass growth had slowed to 15kg dry matter/hectare.

We read in last week’s Irish Farmers Journal that it is 90 in Ballyhaise Agricultural College, Co Cavan.

Despite being a small country, we can have very different grass growing conditions. Our fields on top of the hill and around the house are burnt up and dormant.

Grazed grass

The grazed grass feels like straw underfoot. It will take these fields some time to recover. Grass on the side of the hill and down into the valley is green and growing slowly. We are used to managing drought on this farm but this level of drought has been challenging. It reminds us of the drought around here in 2018. Even the nettles are wilting! It was hard not to get anxious as the prolonged dry period continued. Still, worrying about it does not help. That is easier said than done!

By last Sunday evening 12mm of rain had fallen. It was far short of what had been forecast. Nevertheless, the drought has been broken and the rain is falling beautifully, soft and intermittently. I thought that was grass was responding immediately seeing things less brown. Tim was quick to point out that it was only the dust had been washed off. It will take some time for growth to recover.

Management strategies

Cows are eating 4kg of ration and 4kg of silage. By subtraction, that means that cows are eating 9kg of grass. It’s hard to see it but the cows are happy. They bunch a bit but there’s not a sound out of them. The measurement of grass continues with regular grass walks.

Our surplus silage bales made earlier in the season are gone. We’ve bought in some good quality silage bales at €50 a bale. It seems expensive but will probably be cheap when we see how far the price will rise as grass is slow to return. We may have to buy more.

Meal bin

The meal bin was topped up again during the week. We are following the advice of the co-op and not forward buying meal as it is too difficult to determine a price. We have bought extra straw in case we need to stretch silage stocks. At this time of year, we are normally building covers for next spring and this will be a priority once growth resumes.

Tim says that he will spread 15 units of nitrogen and 7 units of potash in response to the rain. Using the Pasture Base Feed Budget, silage will be taken out when there is surplus grass in the system. The main crop is safe in the pit for winter feeding. Right now we are making sure the cows are fed well to maintain milk production and keep them stress free so that they remain in calf.

The plan is to sell the young milking empties to farmers that don’t have a grass shortage

The cows were scanned this week by Padraig Healy. Padraig is Leo’s son and now in business with him. Leo has a long history of scanning on this farm. 12% of the cows are empty. It is a little higher than we would like but follows a 10 week breeding programme, which is quite short. The plan is to sell the young milking empties to farmers that don’t have a grass shortage. We may also dry off some lower yielding young cows to further reduce demand for grass. They can move to an out-block for wintering.

As you see there are lots of questions to be pondered and actions to be taken. The most important one is to stay calm and trust in your own management capabilities. Talk to other farmers in your discussion group. It’s a great place to find solutions.

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