Growth dips but rain on the way
Average grass growth rate has dipped a bit this week to 72kg/day, but rain over the next few days should boost growth again.

Average grass growth rates have dipped a bit this week to 72kg/day on average, which is back about 10kg/day on last week.

Looking at the map, counties all along the east and midlands are growing the least, with many farms averaging in the mid 60s as soil moisture deficits are affecting growth.

In some cases, the growth rate is lower than the demand as ground is out for reseeding or silage. Looking at the weather forecast, most of the country should have got some rain by Thursday and if not should definitely get rain at the weekend as there is a storm approaching.

On these farms, growth rate will increase when the rain does come but it won’t be as high as it was a few weeks ago. Grass has gone to seed on most farms so the burst in growth experienced in early May won’t be the same now.

Farms in the west and farms that got thunderstorms are still growing really well, some still over 100kg/day. I would expect to see a gradual reduction in growth on these farms over the next week or so as soil temperatures come back down and rain returns.

They key thing to avoid is getting caught out with a high proportion of the farm closed for silage and not being able to cut it, meaning demand could be higher than growth. Average farm cover should be between 160 and 200kg/cow and demand should be set at what you think growth rate will be. For most farmers, this is between 60 and 70kg/day for June and July. If surplus grass emerges, it should be cut out as soon as possible.

Grass quality is poor enough on many farms. On lower stocked farms, it’s not much of an issue if the cows are not being asked to graze out fully. Wait until just after the rain to spread fertiliser this week. There’s no problem spreading urea on moist soils. The equivalent of one unit of nitrogen should be spread per day for the summer.

  • Growth rates have dropped a bit on farms with a soil moisture deficit.
  • Widespread rain this weekend will improve growth rate.
  • Spread one unit/day of nitrogen.
  • Keep average farm cover at between 160 and 200kg/cow.
  • Brendan Horan

    Teagasc Curtins Farm, Cork

    Stocking rate (cows/ha) 5.4

    Growth rate (kg/day) 109

    Average farm cover (kg/cow) 170

    Yield (l/cow/day) 22.45

    Fat % 4.49

    Protein % 3.51

    Milk solids (kg/cow) 1.7

    Supplement fed (kg/cow/day) 0.2

    I’m surprised that growth rate is as high as it is but it’s great to get it. The stocking rate looks very high, and it is, but there are silage fields cut and waiting to come back in and there is also reseeded ground to come back in too. Demand is currently 92kg/day. Pre-grazing yield is high at 1,800kg but it is nearly all aftergrass so quality is good. Protein is back about 0.15% compared to other years and this could be because of the higher covers. We’re spreading 25 units of CAN/acre after grazing.

    Alan Hughes

    Bagenalstown, Co Carlow

    Stocking rate (cows/ha) 3.57

    Growth rate (kg/day) 26

    Average farm cover (kg/cow) 112

    Yield (l/cow/day) 23.5

    Fat % 4.01

    Protein % 3.44

    Milk solids (kg/cow) 1.80

    Supplement fed (kg/cow/day) 5m 5s

    Growth has crashed here as we have got little or no rain in weeks. We started feeding silage 10 days ago, starting out feeding two bales per day and now we’re feeding five bales per day. I’m feeding them in the yard as I found there was too much wastage in the field. Hopefully we will get the rain at the weekend and growth will increase. I remember growing 120kg/day on 15 June last year so when it does come it will grow well. I got a good first cut of silage and made 100 bales in May so I have enough silage.

    Jeremy Hitchens

    Birr Castle, Offaly

    Stocking rate (cows/ha) 3.88

    Growth rate (kg/day) 97

    Average farm cover (kg/cow) 135

    Yield (l/cow/day) 21

    Fat % 4.32

    Protein % 3.64

    Milk solids (kg/cow) 1.7

    Supplement fed (kg/cow/day) 2

    Grass has been hard to manage this year as it has gone very stemmy over the last few weeks but we are grazing lighter covers and grazing harder to try to prevent seed heads emerging. We have cut a good bit of the farm over the last few weeks, both for bale silage and also pre-mowing. We’re grazing covers of 1,300kg. I’d like to increase this to 1,400 or 1,500kg over the next few weeks as cows would perform a bit better on it. Breeding has been going well, but it’s still too early to know for sure. We got 92% of the herd submitted after 24 days of breeding.

    Barry Reilly

    Teagasc Ballyhaise, Cavan

    Stocking rate (cows/ha) 3.52

    Growth rate (kg/day) 81

    Average farm cover (kg/cow) 145

    Yield (l/cow/day) 20.4

    Fat % 4.30

    Protein % 3.52

    Milk solids (kg/cow) 1.70

    Supplement fed (kg/cow/day) 1

    Grass is flying it and we have about 50% of the farm cut over the last few weeks. Cows are grazing covers of 1,400kg and we’re allocating 16kg of grass and 1kg of meal in the parlour. Clean-outs are good as we are grazing to 4 to 4.5cm post-grazing height.

    We have just two cows left to serve. We are using beef AI bulls for the next two weeks and after that we will let out stock bulls for the last month. Cows are milking well and I’m happy with how things are going.

    Read more

    All eyes on rainfall as growth slows

    Fodder watch: planting the seeds to grow your own
    In the first of an eight-week campaign on growing your own fodder, Irish Farmers Journal livestock and tillage specialists preview the farms.

    This is the first of a new eight-week campaign aimed at growing your own winter feed.

    Fodder watch will track the progress of farmers from around the country trying to pull themselves out of a winter feed deficit.

    Each farmer is doing something different. Some are growing fodder crops for livestock farmers, others are closing up ground for a third cut, some are buying a third cut off someone else while others are going to spread more fertiliser to grow more grass.

    We will follow the progress of each case every week until the end of September.

    The overall objective is to raise awareness of the options available, and to learn from each other about the best ways to maximise yield and overcome issues around growing and harvesting.

    The main focus is on the field and the crop, whether that’s grass or a forage crop. Sowing method, seeding rate, fertiliser plan, growing management and costs will all be discussed.

    Third-cut silage

    Jack Kearney’s field stopped for silage. \ Donal O’Leary

    Rathcormac, Co Cork

    The Kearney family from Rathcormac in Co Cork currently have about 40% of the winter feed needed for their 140 cows and followers. Larry and Annette are farming with their son, Jack. This is the first year they are doing a third cut and they hope it will fill half of the deficit and they will use soya hulls to fill the other half. The second cut was harvested two weeks ago and yielded just 3.3 bales/acre. That ground has a cover of about 500kg/ha today and was spread with 38 units/acre of 20:0:15 on 3 August. The plan is to top it up with more fertiliser in a few weeks’ time. The land is all in outfarms so slurry isn’t an option and they have used up their chemical phosphorus allowance.

    Fodder crop on a livestock farm

    Ploughing for hybrid rape at Tullamore Farm.

    Tullamore Farm, Co Offaly

    The Irish Farmers Journal beef and sheep farm in Tullamore is short of 20% of its winter feed requirement. Eighteen acres of hybrid rape (12 acres of Redstart and six acres of Interval) was sown this week (Wednesday 8 August) at a seeding rate of 3.5kg/acre and three bags/acre of 18:6:12. The field was originally sprayed off and due to be reseeded but wasn’t because of the drought and then last week the decision was made to sow a fodder crop to produce more winter feed. Farm manager Shaun Diver expects the crop to grow somewhere between 3t/ha and 5t/ha of dry matter and will put weanling heifers on it for the winter. Round bales of silage will be placed on it over the next few weeks.

    Buying third-cut silage

    This field in the midlands that is being bought for a third cut has a cover of about 500kg/ha on it.

    Co Kilkenny

    This farm in Kilkenny is short 60% of its winter feed requirement. In order to make up this deficit, the farm has been trying to source silage locally, but due to the severity of the drought in the region and the delay in grass recovery, the farm has had to look further afield. A 22ac field 100km away in the midlands has been sourced through word of mouth. The field is owned by a beef farmer. The farmer has agreed to pay €50/ac upfront and €50/ac at harvest in late September. The deal has just been sealed and two bags/acre of cut sward fertiliser will be spread by a contractor this weekend. In his sums based on making seven bales/acre, it will cost him €41/bale all in. At six bales/ac, it will cost him €45/bale and at five bales/ac, it will cost him €50/bale. Of this, transport costs €9/bale.

    Growing grass on a tillage farm

    Seed bed preparation under way on John Stokes’ tillage farm in Co Cork where Westerwolds will be sown.

    Doneraile, Co Cork

    John Stokes is a tillage farmer growing Westerwolds grass after harvesting a field of winter barley on his farm in Doneraile, Co Cork. The crop is grown on contract for a livestock farmer and the plan is to take bales off it in mid-October and again next March before sowing the field back to spring barley. The field was sown on 27 July with 16kg/ac of Westerwold seeds and it got two bags/acre of 10:10:20 and one bag/acre of muriate of potash before tilling. The field wasn’t ploughed but was tilled with a big harrow and sowed with a one-pass and then rolled. The seeds are already up and the take has been good. John says the job over the next week will be to pick stones.

    Growing fodder on a tillage farm

    Tillage farmer Michael O’Brien from Ardmore in Athy is sowing a hybrid fodder crop of Redstart rape and kale, having harvested his crop of winter barley.

    Athy, Co Kildare

    Michael O’Brien from Athy in Co Kildare is growing 30 acres of the hybrid brassica Redstart for sale to a local livestock farmer. The crop was sown two weeks ago at 3kg/ac following winter barley. The stubbles were disked before spreading two bags/acre of 0:7:30 and two bags/acre of 27% N + S. The crop was then sown with a Vaderstad drill and rolled. Final fertiliser prices are to be confirmed but estimated establishment costs are between €126/ac and €134/ac. The crop was sown on 27 July and it’s already up.

    Grass+: growth up but drought hangover remains
    Most farms have experienced a lift in growth rates but some areas continue to lag behind.

    Average grass growth this week increased to 50kg/day as most farms recover from the drought. However, big differences in growth remain between farms.

    Those that got over 40mm of rain seem to be growing a lot better than those that got less than 30mm. Unless more rain comes, these farms will be back to drought soon. Farms that got more rain recovered faster and because they are now at a higher average farm cover they are growing more grass now too. More leaf area leads to more photosynthesis which increases the energy to the plant and so grass grows faster, hence the origin of the saying “grass grows grass”.

    Getting average farm cover up to 600 or 700kg/ha is critical to maximise growth over the long term. Farms that are struggling to grow must keep feeding until average farm cover comes up to target. If you take the foot off the brake too soon you’ll be chasing your tail for the rest of the year. If you hold the cows up until the farm cover is up, then you’ll easily be growing +80kg/day in a few weeks provided more rain comes.

    But it’s business as usual for farms that are growing well. Average farm cover should be between 200 and 250kg/cow in order to build up grass for the autumn. Rotation lengths should be pushed out a bit, to 22 or 23 days.

    The only change from other years is that growth rates are and should continue to stay higher than normal for the next month at least so be prepared to take out surplus paddocks and still be on target for average farm cover.

    All farms should drive on with fertiliser for the next four weeks – as of now, the closed period for fertiliser is 15 September.

    I would blanket spread the farm with 30 units/acre now and blanket spread again in mid-September.

    Read more

    Grass growth getting back on track