Grazing: For most farmers, September has been a fantastic month for grass growth and grazing.
There are parts of Leinster still struggling to grow enough due to soil moisture deficits, but for the most part it’s good.
At this stage, peak average farm cover should have been reached and from now on, we can expect a gradual decline in growth rates.
This decline needs to be managed carefully to ensure enough grass for grazing into mid-November and to have enough grass for early turnout next spring.
For most farmers, this means a closing cover of around 600kg-800kg on 1 December and an opening average farm cover of around 900kg to 1,100kg in February. Reaching these targets depends largely on weather and soil fertility, but it also takes management and discipline to achieve it.
Cows are wading through grass on many farms, grazing high covers of 2,500kg plus. It’s not ideal, but a necessary evil if you are to extend grass into October and November. Because ground conditions are so good most farmers are giving grass on a 24- or 36-hour basis, but if ground conditions change, you must go back to 12-hour breaks to prevent damage and improve utilisation. Avoid feeding too much supplement when grazing high covers, as this reduces appetite. Try and get as good a cleanout as possible without overly pinching cows’ intake. Farmers can start to close up paddocks for the winter from early October on.
Lameness: The next two months are going to be hard on cows’ feet and we tend to see an increase in lameness at this time of year. The soles of cows’ feet get thinner towards the end of lactation because they have been walking on them all year. This makes them more penetrable to stones, causing sole injury. The combination of long walks to get to far away paddocks and wet autumn farm roadways makes the issue worse.
There’s limited research on the success of footbathing to prevent injuries, although some say that copper sulphate footbaths will help to harden the feet. In general, most off-the-shelf footbath chemicals are effective against bacteria and other infectious agents and won’t really do much to prevent injuries. Injury is the cause of the vast majority of lameness in Irish herds. The exception to this is indoor herds, where mortellaro, foul and other bacteria-related diseases dominate. On the majority of farms, keeping roadways smooth, dry and clean and letting cows walk at their own pace is the best way to prevent lameness. Identify lame cows early and treat accordingly. Most issues are easily rectified. Hoof trimming is a skill that more farmers should learn in order to ensure prompt treatment of lame cows.
Fertiliser: Farmers who buy most of their fertiliser requirements in the autumn are asking what to do this year. It’s a difficult situation. If they don’t buy before year end, their profits will be higher which will increase their tax liability. If they do buy now they could be buying at peak prices. Then again, prices could well be higher next spring. Best policy is probably to hedge your bets and buy some now.