Everyone I speak to agrees that this season has been one of the most difficult seasons ever to manage cows and grass. The situation on farms is yo-yoing between too little grass, too much grass, land being saturated and unable to graze, grass growth rates over 100kg/day, to grass growth rates crashing due to colder and wetter-than-normal weather. It’s a big challenge for everyone and getting it right is next to impossible. The result is that milk yield is poor and costs are higher as farmers are, in the main, still feeding more meal than they should be, not because they want to drive on production, but because the grass or weather situation necessitates it. Most of the issues boil down to the fact that land is saturated. According to Met Éireann, most places have a soil moisture deficit of less than 10mm, meaning land is more or less at field capacity and it can’t take more rain without turning soupy. Some areas are worse affected than others. A common complaint is that grass growth is poor and fields are washed-out looking. Soil nitrogen reserves are low, so regular applications of nitrogen, soiled water and slurry will be more important. The forecast for the weekend and early next week is for drier weather, which should hopefully allow things to settle down and silage to be cut.


Most farmers are now three to five weeks into the breeding season and are into repeat territory. As bulling activity tails off, heat detection can get harder and the cost of a missed heat is higher. Complacency can set in, but those that keep up good heat detection are well rewarded for it. Some farmers will switch to scratch cards for the second three-week period of breeding, because they feel they are a bit more sensitive than tail paint. The other thing to keep in mind is that inseminating a cow that you think is bulling but is actually in-calf is potentially damaging to that pregnancy. At this stage most of the dairy semen should be used up and beef AI or beef bulls used instead. Cows served today will be calving in the first week of March. It is still relatively early, so if using beef AI, a good beef bull should be used with good beef traits. Shorter gestation length beef bulls can be justified for the end of the season. If stock bulls are going out, keep up AI for a week or so in conjunction with the bulls, as it might take a bit of time for the bulls to settle into the job.


It hasn’t been an easy start to grazing for calves. Feeding some meal at grass will help keep their intakes up if the weather is poor. At this stage, rearing calves is a balancing act between giving them nice, leafy grass to drive on liveweight gain, but not giving them too lush grass that could make them loose or cause other issues. Best policy is to give them good grass, but don’t ask them to clean it out. Instead, move them on after a few days and get older stock to clean it out. As soon as aftergrass is available, prioritise this for the young calves. Depending on worm counts, the first worm doses will be needed over the coming weeks.