Many farmers are a bit muddled about what to do in this dry spell because it’s coming a lot later than normal.
A summer drought leaves the promise of a good autumn with good grass growth and milk production.
I’m getting less and less confident of this happening this year as time goes on.
Some are content to erode the bank balance by horsing in meal and using up winter feed stocks just to keep cows well fed, but to what end?
Looking at it from a financial point of view, most farmers are in a good cashflow position now because the mid-season milk payments have been very high.
Subtract what money is owed for costs incurred to date and any definite costs to come. Then do the sums on whether high feed bills for the autumn will increase or decrease cash surplus.
The alternative is to spend as little as possible over the next few months, even if this means producing less milk.
The milk that is produced will be very profitable. Drying off low-yielding cows such as first-calvers and putting them on a restricted grass diet (ideally on an outfarm), selling cull cows or going once-a-day milking will help to reduce demand for grass and how much feed needs to be purchased. It will also reduce workload.
I am concerned that many farmers in the regions worst affected by the dry spell will have fat cows, big feed bills and a depleted bank balance.
Farmers in areas where grass is growing well should also keep meal bills down by utilising as much grass as possible – make hay when the sun shines.
Now that pits are well settled, it’s a good time to measure what silage is in stock. Each round bale contains around 200kg of silage dry matter.
As a rule of thumb, to calculate the amount of silage in a pit, measure the length x breadth x settled height in metres and divide by 1.35 to get tonnes equivalent. Then multiply by the dry matter to get the tonnes dry matter.
Pit silage will typically be around 20% to 24% dry matter. Each dairy cow will need about 330kg dry matter per month while a weanling heifer will need about 150kg of dry matter per month.
Work out how much silage is needed for the winter and ring-fence this so that it is not used up in supplementing cows now.
There will be a silage deficit on some farms and these farmers need to act early if they are to buy silage.
The grassland farmer of the year competition for 2022 is open for entries.
There are seven categories in this year’s competition – dairy, drystock, clover/sustainable farming, heavy soils/disadvantaged land, innovation, young farmer (under 30 years) and a new category for organic farmers.
There is a total prize fund of €25,000 available for the winners.
Entry forms can be found at Teagasc offices or on the Teagasc website.
Last year’s winner, Colin Doherty, is hosting an open day on his farm in Adare, Co Limerick, on Tuesday 6 September at 11am. The Doherty farm is currently badly affected by the dry spell so there will be plenty of discussion on how best to manage grass this autumn.