With many parts of the country getting more than 1.5 times the average rainfall in March, the last four weeks will go down as one of the wettest months of March in a long time. For farmers, this has meant grazing is on a spectrum ranging from challenging to impossible.

With much less grass in the diet, protein has taken a tumble and cow body condition score has dropped.

Reduce meal feeding rates to the minimum as soon as conditions allow.

On-farm workload has increased with more cubicles to be cleaned, silage to be fed out and more health-related issues to be dealt with when cows are in.

The situation is not all bad, however – February was much drier than normal, meaning many farmers got a decent proportion of the farm grazed then and that area is recovering well.

There is generally plenty of silage in yards. There are a number of key things to do over the next few weeks to get back on track.

Key tasks: what to do over the next few weeks

Manage the start of the second rotation

The objective for all farmers must be to feed as little silage as possible in April. It’s a poor-quality feed relative to grass and with only weeks to go before breeding starts, cows need to be on a rising plane of nutrition.

Most farmers will be content starting the second rotation between 1 and 10 April – later for those who calve later or have very high stocking rates. Count how many days of grazing are left in the first-round paddocks.

Then check the grass cover on the first-grazed paddocks. If we presume that these paddocks will grow 30kg to 40kg/ha/day over the next while and multiply that by the days left in the first rotation, we can anticipate the pre-grazing cover in the second rotation. This should ideally be around 1,200kg/ha.

For most farmers, this means that there should be around 1,000kg/ha on the first-grazed paddocks today. It’s better to put in feed now to slow them down rather than having a substantial grass deficit in mid-April because the second round started too soon.

Catch up on fertiliser

Some farmers have no chemical nitrogen applied yet, while others have the first round applied, but are waiting to go at the second round.

There have been little or no opportunities to spread in the last month, but the forecast is looking better for next week.

Silage ground and grazing ground will need to be spread when conditions allow.

Protected urea is the product of choice.

With better weather on the way it's an opportunity to catch up on fertiliser. \ Philip Doyle

Where no nitrogen has been spread to date and where there is a reasonable demand for grass, I would be inclined to go with 40 units/acre now, followed by 20 units/acre in late April. If on the second round, I would go with 30 units/acre now.

Control costs

The milk price environment has totally changed compared to this time last year.

There has been 12c/l knocked off milk price in the last two months, with some saying there is more to come off it.

All opportunities to spend less money must be grasped. Meal feeding rates are like low hanging fruit.

The aim must be to get down to minimum feeding rates of a basic nut as quickly as possible in April.

Aside from mineral packs, most “high-spec” dairy nuts are not necessary where there is grass in the diet because spring grass is high in energy and protein – a wonder feed. Focusing on residuals and pre-grazing yields in April and May will be better than any response from feeding meal.

The cost benefits are enormous - saving 2kg of meal per day in April will save €25/cow for the month with little effect on yield.