Have a plan ready in case we don’t get enough rain for grass growth

Advice for beef farmers.
Have a plan ready in case we don’t get enough rain for grass growth
At Bandon Mart last Thursday, two Angus bullocks of 620kg which sold for €1,240. Picture: Denis Boyle
At Bandon Mart last Thursday, two Angus bullocks of 620kg which sold for €1,240. Picture: Denis Boyle

When we look back at the drought of 2018, everyone has a different take on it.

Farmers get the shivers at the thought of it, those not involved in farming talk about the days at the beach.

Well, 2020 is looking a lot like 2018, with the added issue of social distancing!

The big difference — and it is a worry — is we are almost a month earlier getting the extended dry spell.

As I mentioned here last week, growth has slowed dramatically in many parts of the country. Unlike 2018, the drought seems to have hit the north east, midlands and east first. The southern coast, which often is first to see a moisture deficit, got some valuable rain in the last six or seven weeks.

Take action sooner rather than later

I can’t stress enough the importance of having a plan ready if we don’t get rain soon, and grass growth continues to plummet.

Begin stretching available grass, house selected groups of stock, or feed them outdoors. For sucklers, weanlings or stores, start by introducing some forage, and then concentrates at a later date if necessary. For cattle destined for slaughter later in the year, introducing concentrates and finishing them earlier will help to take pressure of grass and silage supplies later in the year.

Most now have first cut silage safe in their pit or bales. Reports around the country suggest that cuts were not as bulky as hoped, as the moisture deficit kicked in early enough to significantly hit yields.

With grass growth slowing down, what are the prospects for second cuts?

If we learned any lesson from 2018, it is that it will eventually rain again and growth will recover.

When fertilising ground for second cuts, you need to consider carefully what you are doing. If you recall, in 2018, second cuts were for many a salvage operation with the equivalent of one bale per acre. Or, in many cases, what was supposed to be second cut was grazed.

Thankfully, we got a good third cut in 2018. Hopefully rain will come sooner rather than later.

When looking at a fertiliser plan for second cut, most will be including slurry. Try to apply it in duller and cooler conditions where possible, so that it doesn’t form a crust on the surface. Also, consider your source of artificial fertiliser. Many farmers recently have seen huge benefits from using liquid nitrogen as it doesn’t require rain to wash it in. It gets to work straight away, as it can get to the moisture that is still present, and can influence grass growth in silage and grazing ground as soon as possible.

Reseeded paddocks that are struggling have also benefitted from an application of liquid nitrogen to improve root structure and increase growth.

Reviewing calving events

Each year I recommend that we review calving events on our farms. It may only be a short time ago since the spring cows finished calving, but now is perhaps the best time to make a few notes on what to keep an eye on for next year. Start by listing the calf losses and the cause.

Were most of the losses at calving? This could indicate that sire selection needs to be done more carefully, with attention being paid to easy calving sires for heifers and smaller cows. Were heifers big enough at calving?

Calving facilities

Do you use the same calving boxes each year for calving? There may be a build-up of bacteria or viruses that contribute to calf scour in these boxes. Ideally, boxes should be cleaned out and disinfected after each calving. However, on a busy farm in the spring, this is a virtual impossibility.

Maybe having two calving areas or more will allow each to be cleaned out while the others are being used.

It is always a good idea to get new calves and their mothers out of the calving boxes as soon as they can be moved comfortably. While indoors, calves under cows should be penned where possible with similar aged calves.

Now that all stock are outside, there is an opportunity to improve calving boxes, if required, for next season

Testing cows and forage

If you had issues this spring, investigations should go further.

Having collected the relevant information, you now need to research what may have caused issues to occur on your farm.

Discuss your findings with your vet, who would have been involved in trying to deal with the issues on your farm.

Discuss with him or her, the possibility of blood testing a cross section of cows for disease and mineral/vitamin profiles.

Look at getting your silage tested ,to establish a mineral profile of your farm, to cross reference with any blood tests you might do.

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