Bull selection: In this week's paper, we highlight some of the issues with the current crop of bulls being marketed by the AI stations.
The best way to improve milk solids production is to focus on improving fertility, not pushing for high yields.
Those pushing for high yields are either misguided, have a vested interest in selling you high-yielding AI straws or want to sell the nutritional advice and extra feed needed to keep them performing.
Increasingly, Irish farmers need cows that are easy care, have excellent fertility and health, produce high milk solids from grazed grass, and have moderate liveweight.
I’m not at all convinced many of the bulls being promoted now have the ability to produce cows that satisfy these requirements. There are better bulls available but farmers need to seek them out and don’t blithely accept the bull of the day, thinking it’s the best available. Some bulls may have a lower EBI now, but are sure to be more reliable in the long term.
Weather: The cold nights and lower than average daytime temperatures linger on, which is reducing grass growth and affecting farmer morale.
The good news is grass growth rates are set to increase, but will still be below normal for the time of year. It is also clear that grass dry matters are very high and cows are getting good feeding out of what grass is available, with excellent utilisation on most farms.
Regrowth on recently grazed paddocks is very slow, but when covers reach a certain point they seem to grow much better. This highlights the importance of preventing the farm from getting too low in grass.
The target is not to let grass go below an average farm cover of 500kg/ha, which is a pre-grazing yield of about 1,000kg/ha.
If at or below this now, farmers need to put in extra feed to slow down grazing. You hate to see silage being fed to milking cows now, particularly so close to breeding.
I’d be inclined to feed 4kg or 5kg of meal before going in with silage, but if silage needs to be fed, then so be it.
When the weather does change, grass growth will change fast so be prepared to move quickly. On the law of averages, farmers will be cutting surplus paddocks for bale silage in 10 days’ time.
Silage: With the slowdown in grass growth, many farmers have had to go back in and graze silage ground again. This is a good decision where the average farm cover is low. If the pre-grazing yield in the fields ear marked for silage is high, consider alternating between night and day on lighter covers.
By right, fertiliser should be spread and fields closed for silage by now, but I wouldn’t panic as there will be compensatory grass growth when the weather does soften up.
If spreading fertiliser for silage later than normal, ease off on the nitrogen and potash spreading rates.
Spreading 70 to 80 units/acre of nitrogen and 60 to 70 units/acre of potash now is probably sufficient. No extra phosphorus or potash is required in fields where slurry was spread. Sulphur is an important nutrient, particularly on dry land in the current dry spell of weather. About 16 units/acre of sulphur should be spread on silage ground.