It feels like déjà vu to be talking about the impending grass deficit. This is familiar territory for many farmers all along the east, south and midland regions who have toiled from one grass deficit to the next since early June.

It feels as though the current deficit is worse than the ones that came before it – the number of hot, sunny, moisture sapping days this week has been the icing on the cake for soil moisture deficits, which are approaching 80mm in the worst affected parts.

On the bright side, we are in mid-August as opposed to mid-June and so much closer to the change of seasons and closer to getting out of this period. Plus, widespread rain is forecast for early next week.

Of course this was forecast before and never materialised, so farmers will have to wait and see.

It’s also important to say that for most farmers in the west and northwest regions this warm, hot weather is just what they want and won’t be looking for any rain for the foreseeable.

While still early, farmers who are experiencing good grass growth should be keeping one eye on building up grass covers.

The best way to do this is to gradually build up covers, aiming for 220kg per livestock unit of average farm cover rising to 250kg to 260kg per livestock unit by the end of the month.

It’s a different plan for those suffering from the effects of drought. In such situations it’s about feeding the cow for today and worrying about building up covers at a later date.

As we have written previously, growth rates will be higher than normal after a dry spell, so I’m not concerned about reaching autumn cover targets just yet.

Cows and cattle are generally content grazing dry grass in warm weather and animal performance is good. Decisions around when and how much supplement to feed should be based on how much grass is available and what’s happening to it.

If grass is wilting away before your eyes, putting in extra feed to slow down the rotation length means more grass will be wilted before you get to graze it. Therefore, I’d be of the view to let average farm cover run down low and then start the heavy feeding.

Sward watch

  • Average grass growth rate this week was 55kg per day on dairy farms and herd demand is set at 48kg per day.
  • There is a big decline in forecasted grass growth rates as a result of severe soil moisture deficits. Growth rates in Carlow are expected to be as low as 15kg/ha/day and a high of 68kg/ha/day in Westmeath.
  • Farms that are burning up should cease fertiliser spreading until after the rain comes.
  • Make sure cows and cattle have enough fresh and clean drinking water at all times during the hot weather.
  • Farmers

    Michael Doran – Duncormick, Co Wexford

    Grass is disappearing fast at the moment. We got away with only feeding 20 bales throughout the summer, despite only receiving 26mls of rain in July and a similar amount in June.

    Silage is gone back in the diet from this morning (Wednesday) at 4kg and meal will be going up to 3kg/head/day. We will hold rotation length to 21-days, but if we do not get any rain within a week we will be increasing silage and meal going in to the diet.

    We reseeded 25% of the farm by spraying off and stitching this year, with approximately half of this also receiving 1kg/acre of plantain in the mix.

    Stocking Rate (cows/ha) 2.9

    Growth Rate (kg/day) 26

    Average Farm Cover (kg/cow) 173

    Yield (l/cow) 19.6

    Fat % 4.7

    Protein% 3.97

    Milk Solids (kg/cow) 1.75

    Supplement fed (kg/cow/day) 1.5

    Dunphy Family – Easkey, Co Sligo

    Our cover per cow is high at the minute due to a block of ground coming back in to the rotation sitting at 900-1,000kg DM, so we have nothing mowable as such.

    Next week we will likely be in a surplus, but we are also looking to start building cover for our autumn rotation from now on. Our fertiliser application went up from 18 units of protected N per round to 30 units for our August application.

    We reseeded some ground two weeks ago, using a mix of grass, white clover and red clover. A 20ac outblock was entered in to the red clover silage scheme, so this received the Department red clover mix.

    Stocking Rate (cows/ha) 3.2

    Growth Rate (kg/day) 80

    Average Farm Cover (kg/cow) 230

    Yield (l/cow) 21

    Fat % 4.75

    Protein% 3.93

    Milk Solids (kg/cow) 1.86

    Supplement fed (kg/cow/day) 3

    Padraig Keane – Kilcormac, Co Offaly

    We have a crossbred herd milking OAD and are relatively low stocked, so we haven’t felt too much of a pinch with grass. We got rain last weekend which has kept things growing well, but we are seeing things slow down already.

    Although cover per cow is high, we will revaluate next week to see if we will mow out any paddocks.

    We’re also conscious of trying to build covers going in to the autumn. Our lighter ground is starting to show signs of the grass stressing, but paddocks in more moory areas are helping keep growth rates up.

    Our last fertiliser application was about two weeks ago, with 20 units of N spread.

    Stocking Rate (cows/ha) 2.34

    Growth Rate (kg/day) 51

    Average Farm Cover (kg/cow) 232

    Yield (l/cow) 15

    Fat % 5.08

    Protein% 4.11

    Milk Solids (kg/cow) 1.41

    Supplement fed (kg/cow/day) 0.5