Brian Reidy: Rain needed, but don’t say it too loud

Only a short few months ago, we were all wondering when the rain was going to stop. Now we are all wondering when it is going to rain again.

The dry spell is starting to cause difficulties for many beef and dairy producers around the country.

Grass growth has slowed down dramatically on many farms, particularly in the southern half of the country.

Any growth seems to be pure stem, as swards are beginning to head out due to stress from the heat and moisture shortage.

As a result, many are now very short on grass, and animal performance is suffering.

Many milk producers are reporting two issues. 

A drop in yield due to poor intakes, and low butter fats due to poor fibre supply/digestion.

It is easier for dairy producers to identify poor performance, but if they are experiencing these issues, beef animals are also under pressure for fibre and energy supply.

For many, the root cause is an under supply of fertiliser earlier in the season.

Many reduced nitrogen applications due to cost concerns, which has turned out to be a very unwise move.

One third of the grass that will grow each year will have grown by the end of June, so one third of the nitrogen should also be out by then.

There are a lot of different solutions being implemented on farms to bridge the grass shortage.

* Increasing meal, or re- introducing meal.

*Grazing a proportion of second cut silage ground.

* Zero grazing.

* Feeding silage or other available forages.

Obviously, not every option listed above is possible on many farms. You must select the option which is the most efficient from an animal performance point of view while also being cost effective.

For those experiencing a drought on their farm, it is essential that grass is managed very carefully.

Try to slow down the rotation, if growth has slowed down. This will involve feeding additional ration to those already being fed, and introducing ration to other stock. It may also require feeding of round bale silage, if it is available, to slow down the rotation. Whatever happens, it is only the month of June, so don’t leave animals run out of grass before you start thinking about what you will do to feed them.

Feeding meal to stretch grass

Creep feeding of suckler calves will help to reduce grass demand.

Many weaned dairy-bred calves on grass are getting little or no meal, and again, upping or re-introducing meal will save grass.

Starting to feed meal to forward stores on grass will slow down the rotation, while getting animals used to meal, before being pushed for finish.

Some may also need to consider bringing in cattle intended for slaughter later in the year. Commencing the finishing period a little earlier will take the pressure of the grazing platform.

Silage

Most have now saved their first cut. The dry spell provided ideal conditions for silage. However that same dry spell is now resulting in slow growth in second cut silage crops.

Fields cut early for first cut (early May), are now only a few weeks from harvest again, but have not yet bulked up. Recent first cut fields have very little grass in them and many are still yellow, which may result in a light and late second cut, if we don’t get rain soon. This may lead to a shortfall of silage on some heavier stocked farms.


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