It is likely that sometime in the future, the EU will withdraw or modify the Irish nitrate derogation.
This will have a big effect on the 7,000 farmers who avail of the derogation.
They will have to reduce stocking rates, requiring much higher output per animal, if reasonable output per hectare is to be achieved.
However, the average stocking rate in Ireland is still very low, compared with Holland and Denmark and other countries where the EU has taken action on nitrates.
The target set by most top farmers is to produce 80-90% of milk from grass (including about 20% from grass silage) at a stocking rate of about one cow per acre, producing 1,300-1,500 gallons of good quality milk each (6,000-6,750 litres).
This is almost 50% higher than the average production level in Ireland. It can and is being achieved with well-bred, healthy cows, high-quality grass and top management. on reasonably good land with moderate concentrate feeding.
The biggest barriers to extra production going forward are deficiency of soil nutrients, scarcity of finance, and milk price volatility.
The basic essential for good early season grass are unchanged — selecting pastures for closing up since October, and good ryegrass swards with adequate lime and fertiliser.
The main problem is poor quality swards, generally due to lack of reseeding, fertiliser or lime.
Research results indicate that early grazing will generate an extra profit of €2.75 per cow per day for each extra day at grass.
This is mainly due to reduction in concentrate costs, and an increase of up to 0.3% in milk protein.
While the target is to get cows to grass as early as possible after calving, be careful to monitor available grass so that the first rotation (including silage areas) will last 40 to 50 days.
And take care not to damage pastures in bad weather.
Grazing should start part-time when about one third of the cow’s diet, or about three hours of grazing, is available.
If ground conditions allow, graze tightly to under two inches, for high sward quality and milk yields in subsequent rotations.
Trials show that pastures grazed tightly early in the season produce two litres milk per cow per day more than pastures not grazed until later, during the period up to early July.
The first few grazings should set the stubble height for the remainder of the year.
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