Management notes 2016
Latest management notes for 2016 are now available using the links below:
Business Development Groups (BDGs) open for application
Knowledge transfer through Business Development Groups (BDGs), a new scheme funded under Pillar II of the Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020, opened for applications on 9th November 2015 and will stay open until 4.00pm on 14th December 2015.
BDGs will consist of about 20 like-minded farmers working together, sharing knowledge and experiences to improve the technical efficiency of their farm businesses.
If you decide to apply to join a BDG, you will be asked to commit to the group for three years. Groups will meet eight times per year and the training events will be facilitated by a dedicated CAFRE Development Adviser. As the BDG scheme will change the way CAFRE interacts with farmers I would encourage you to apply if you wish to continue to access the support of your Development Adviser. Development Advisers will agree a business development plan with you which will aim to improve selected areas of your business. Further information is on our website CAFRE website.
Future Herd at Greenmount
Sixty cows and heifers in the Future Herd at Greenmount have calved. Their basic ration is grass silage, maize silage and 3.0 kg of a 22.5% crude protein concentrate blend, with some straw in a wagon mix and 17% crude protein parlour top-up.
Twelve first lactation heifers and 15 freshly calved cows make up the ‘start up’ group. On the day of calving, parlour feeding starts at 1.0 kg, building up over three weeks to 5.5 kg for cows and 3.5 kg for heifers. Heifers stay in the ‘start up’ group and on day 29 any heifer yielding above 24 litres also receives 0.45 kg per litre.
On day 29 second lactation and older cows move to the high yielding group. There are 42 cows in this group receiving a minimum of 4.0 kg parlour nut for the first 100 days. Any cows yielding over 28 litres also receive additional parlour nut, fed at 0.45 kg per litre.
Forty late lactation cows are getting third cut silage, whole crop and straw and no blend. Parlour feeding is introduced above M+13 for cows and M+10 for heifers.
Dry cows are fed a low potassium diet primarily of whole crop wheat to minimise the risk of milk fever. The ration also contains straw and bale silage. Three weeks before calving cows receive 1.5 kg of pre-calver, 0.75 kg of soya, 200 g of magnesium chloride and 50 g of a dry cow mineral. Any incidence of retained cleaning or milk fever is recorded to assess ration effectiveness.
Check your electricity costs
There is scope to reduce the amount of electric used on farms by:
- Making sure you are on the best tariff. Electricity suppliers can offer more competitive rates to larger energy users. The Utility Regulator’s announcement in March 2014 means that any farm using more than 50,000 units a year (around 150+ cows) is eligible for ‘larger user’ rates
- Changing time clocks. Cheaper electricity in winter time is available from 1.00am to 8.00am. Change the times on your water heater so all the water is heated on the night tariff. Don’t forget about other time clocks on the farm
- Ensuring your plate cooler has an adequate water supply. For maximum benefit there should be a flow of two litres of water for each litre of milk. Investments made to improve water supply to the cooler will be repaid with lower electricity bills
- Insulating hot water tanks and pipes. Many of the old water heaters have a thin metal lid which loses heat to the environment. A 30 mm layer of insulation greatly reduces this heat loss
- Installing low energy bulbs. LED lighting is now an economic option where lights are on for several hours a day. Remove dirt and dust from light bulbs and turn off unnecessary lights
Empty your field drinkers
And finally, empty precast concrete field drinkers after the grazing season has ended ensuring they do not crack in frosty weather due to ice formation.
Grazing after grass
There has been good late season re-growth on silage swards. This should be grazed off clean, as over-wintered grass results in dead material accumulating in the bottom of silage swards next May. With good ground conditions and settled weather, livestock should be able to graze well into November. Graze dairy cows on accessible fields, even for a few hours during the day and use less accessible fields for young stock. Grazing fields to a residual height of 5 cm has the benefit of a good grass sward next spring that will better respond to slurry and fertilizer.
Colostrum for calves
Colostrum management is the most important factor in determining calf survival and subsequent health. Calves are born without any immunity and rely on the protective effect of antibodies derived from their mother's colostrum. Calves that do not receive adequate antibodies through colostrum are twice as likely to die as calves that receive enough colostrum. Achieve protection by ensuring new born calves receive 10 per cent of their bodyweight or 3.5-5 litres of colostrum within the first hours after birth.
Making sure calves get enough colostrum takes time and effort. Only one quarter of dairy farmers stomach tube every calf, in a bid to ensure they receive sufficient colostrum. Calves fed colostrum by stomach tube or bottle within the first hours of life are almost three times more likely to have adequate immunity to fight off neonatal diseases compared to calves that suckle their mother. The message is clear; get colostrum into calves early.
Every dairy farmer should have a simple recording system to assess herd performance. Calculating margin over concentrate monthly is very useful performance indicator. Five basic pieces of information are needed to calculate margin over concentrate. They are:
- number of in-milk and dry cows
- monthly milk production
- concentrates fed in the month
- milk price
- concentrate cost per tonne
How can you use margin over concentrate to help your business? Using this simple recording system allows you to compare performance on a monthly basis, for example what was the average number of cows milked last November, what was their average yield, how much concentrate was fed per cow per day and what was their milk from forage? What were the equivalent figures in September and October this year? Having this information enables you to set production targets for this month for volume of milk produced and tonnage of concentrate fed. Break this down into individual milk tanker lifts and loads of concentrate during the month. Monitor your actual tanker lifts and loads of concentrate during the month to fine tune performance.
How does your performance compare with the typical performance from the Co Armagh farms I work with?
|Average daily milk yield||21.6 litres per cow|
|Average daily concentrate fed||8.2 kg per cow|
|Average daily concentrate feed rate||0.38 kg per litre|
At Greenmount Campus CAFRE the high yielding cows are currently fed a 31 per cent dry matter, 11.9 ME first cut silage along with 3.0 kg of blend as a total mixed ration. Cows are expected to produce M+20 kg of milk. As heifer intakes are 25 per cent less than mature cows it is expected they will produce M+16 kg of milk on this ration. Parlour supplementation is used to top up higher yielding cows. These animals are fed the best silage available and housed initially at a reduced stocking density to give them a chance to maximise intake and reduce any social stress. After milking they return directly to the feed barrier and fresh feed is pushed up regularly throughout the day.
For further information contact your local CAFRE Development Adviser.
Calculate your forage requirements
Estimate the tonnage of silage available on your farm and compare this with the likely winter demand. To calculate the volume of silage multiply the length of the silo by the width by the height. The volume of silage in the silo photographed below is calculated by multiplying 38 m (length) by 10m (width) by 3m (height). This equals 1140 cubic metres of silage. Use the conversion factors in Table 1 to convert the volume of silage to tonnes.
|Silage dry matter (%)||Tonnes of silage / cubic metre|
|20||Multiply by 0.77|
|25||Multiply by 0.68|
|30||Multiply by 0.60|
For our example, assuming the dry matter (DM) of the silage is 25 per cent multiply the volume by 0.68. This equals 775 tonnes of fresh silage (1140 cubic metres x 0.68).
|Dairy cow in milk||1.4|
|0-1 year heifer||0.6|
|1-2 year heifer||0.9|
Use the silage requirement figures in Table 2 to estimate the demand for silage.
Multiply the number of each type of stock by the number of months to be fed by the monthly silage requirement. For example 80 cows in milk fed for seven months require 784 tonnes (80 cows x seven months x 1.4 tonnes per month).
Get your silage tested
At low milk price efficiency is critical. Get your silage analysed so you know its potential feed value (M+). This allows you to make decisions on the level of concentrates needed. Table 3 shows the difference in concentrate needed to feed a cow in early lactation with average and good quality silages.
|Average silage||Good silage|
|Silage ME (MJ/kg DM)||10.8||11.8|
|Silage dry matter (%)||28.1||28.1|
|Silage fresh weight intake (kg)||40||43|
|M+ (kg of milk daily)||M+8||M+12|
|Daily concentrate required (kg)||11||9|
For a wagon mix of silage and concentrates each kilogramme of concentrate in the mix adds approximately 2.25 kg of milk to the silage M+ figure giving a combined M+ for the ration.
I like feeding cows to yield. Try to produce close to the silage M+ and top up the additional required for the cows yield. Each kilogramme of milk over the silage or ration M+ figure requires 0.45 kg of additional concentrate.
Cows should be grouped for feeding. My preference is:
Group 1 - highest yielding/early lactation group (cows giving more than 28 kg milk or less than 150 days in milk.)
Group 2 - lowest yielding/late lactation group (cows giving less than 28 kg milk or more than 150 days in milk).
Set the amount of concentrates fed per cow in the wagon to suit the lowest yielding cow in the group. The lowest yielding group does not always require blend in the wagon if parlour feeding is also taking place on the farm. Good quality (M+12) silage and up to 7.0 kg daily of parlour feed allows cows with yields of 28 kg of milk to be managed satisfactorily without extra concentrate in the wagon. The same silage requires 7.0 kg of concentrates in the wagon to support a base production of 28 kg in the high yield group with cows yielding more than 28 kg of milk being topped up in the milking parlour. As heifers eat 25 per cent less than mature cows top up from 21 kg.
Move cows between groups as their yield declines. Cows more than 150 days in milk no longer producing 28 kg of milk must be moved to the low yield group. At this stage they may receive a greater proportion of their concentrate in the parlour than before, but it is important that cows in late lactation are not over fed, in order to maximize efficiency this winter.
Check the calibration of all concentrate feeders is correct. Also the filling and mixing of concentrates in the feeder wagon requires an experienced operator working on a consistent basis to avoid feeding unplanned concentrates. A monthly audit of concentrate fed against expected feed level will give you a running guide on their accuracy.
For further information contact your local CAFRE Development Adviser.
Fields for autumn reseeding may benefit from improvements to drainage or soil aeration. It is important sheughs are clean and existing shores are still running. If new drains are needed, design the most appropriate solution for the conditions.
Compacted soils restrict root growth and reduce the response of grass to nitrogen. Dig test holes at least 40 cm deep with a spade to see the extent of the problem and depth of compaction. Visible signs of compaction include a soil structure that is hard to break up, shallow roots growing horizontally, absence of worms and grey / brown mottling. Rectify any soil compaction by ploughing or subsoiling, when conditions are sufficiently dry.
Before starting work analyse soils to determine the correct lime and fertilizer needed. Use the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) Recommended Grass and Clover Varieties List for Northern Ireland to select varieties with similar heading dates that best suit your system.
Traditional reseeding, minimal cultivation and stitching-in techniques can all be used to establish or renovate new swards. Regardless of the method used, the secret to success is to ensure the grass seed makes good contact with the soil, therefore sow it into a firm/fine seedbed at a depth of 6-12 mm and lightly roll after seeding.
Findings from AFBI research over a number of trials emphasise the importance of good dry cow management to ensure health and performance during the next lactation. Effective management ensures cows are dried off 50-60 days before calving and calve down at body condition score 2.75-3.0. If cows are too thin or too fat, alter their feed to allow them to achieve this condition score at calving. Fibrous silage and straw are good for keeping the rumen expanded and working. However, as the cow approaches calving her intake declines and concentrates should also be fed.
Why not manage condition score by using two dry cow groups, ‘recently dried’ and ‘close to calving’. For the ‘recently dried’ group target around 100 MJ of energy per cow per day by feeding fibrous grass silage along with a good quality dry cow mineral. For the ‘close to calving’ group, if the cows have been grazed, house them for the last four weeks of pregnancy. Dry cows should be housed at less than 85 per cent stocking density and have at least 75 cm per cow feed space, with a clean, dry and comfortable lying area. Increase energy intake to 120 MJ of energy per cow per day. Add chopped straw and introduce a high quality pre-calver feed to the ration. The ‘close to calving’ group at Greenmount Campus is usually fed 1-2 kg of a pre-calver feed. One week before calving, they are moved to straw bedded pens where they are fed the same diet as the milking cows.
Typical September performance
How does your farm compare? The typical performance of the County Armagh farms is:
|Average daily milk yield||21 litres per cow|
|Average daily concentrate fed||6.1 kilos per cow|
|Average daily milk from forage||7.4 litres per cow|
|Average daily concentrate feed rate||0.29 kilos per litre|
These herds continue to graze good quality grass. My advice to these producers is to target 15 litres from grass this month. By doing this the potential exists to save 3.0 kg of concentrates per cow daily. I have also advised them to set their parlour feeding for 0.45 kg per litre above 15 litres.
Date to remember
Under the Nitrates Action Programme 2015-2018 and Phosphorus Regulations 15 September is the last day for sowing chemical nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer on grassland. Until then, take the opportunity to grow extra grass by applying between 35 and 50 kg nitrogen per hectare after each field has been grazed.
Cash flow budgets
The significant fall in milk price has put dairy farmers under financial pressure. A cash flow budget is a tool you can use to predict how the next few months will ‘pan out’. A sheet of paper, calculator and pen are all you need to draw up an effective budget. The budget will show the difference between money coming in and going out of the business each month.
The budget should include an estimate of expected monthly milk sales (litres sold times milk price) and essential costs for the next three or six months. How are your cows milking, how does this compare to last year, are cow numbers similar? Use this information to estimate the volume of milk that will be sold. Then factor in a realistic milk price to give you the expected monthly milk payment. Are there other receipts that can be generated, cull cows, store cattle, surplus heifers? Include these in the income line. Expenses include concentrates, fertiliser, veterinary, fuel, electric, contractor and machinery running costs. Subtract these costs and other current bills from the payment figure. Is there a shortfall? What will the knock-on effect be on subsequent months? How will this affect existing finance arrangements for the farm?
If there is a cash shortfall it is vital you discuss your options and not ignore the problem. If additional borrowing is required, it is always better to approach your bank sooner rather than later. Prior knowledge of a potential problem gives bank staff confidence in you and your business.
Making grass work!
As concentrates account for two thirds of direct milk production costs making the most of grazing will reduce your costs. August grass has the potential to produce up to 17 litres of milk but most farms are not achieving this. In County Armagh I am seeing farms with the following performance levels:
|Average daily milk yield||21.8 litres per cow|
|Average daily concentrate fed||6 kilos per cow|
|Average daily milk from forage||8.6 litres per cow|
|Average daily concentrate feed rate||0.27 kilos per litre|
There is the potential to save up to 4 kg of concentrates per cow daily. Good grazing conditions, quality swards and the availability of after-grass means your herd has the opportunity to graze good quality grass and you should therefore target 17 litres.
Walk your grazing area and see what grass you have in terms of quantity and quality. During August stock your herd at 3.5 to 4 cows per hectare over the grazing area. On a 21 day rotation, aim for a grazing allocation of 1.3 hectares per day for 100 cows. Your cows should be grazing a field when the grass cover is at 3000 kg dry matter per hectare (the ankle of your boot). Fields with heavier covers should be removed as silage. Graze grass down to 1900 kg dry matter per hectare (the heel of your boot). This should allow a daily intake of 14 kg of grass dry matter per cow - 17 litres from grass.
Cows yielding less than 17 litres should not receive any concentrates but higher yielding cows will need fed. The table below indicates the required daily feed level at various yields:
Follow up with 50 kg nitrogen fertiliser per hectare after grazing to keep grass growing.
If you require information on any of these topics contact your local CAFRE Dairying Development Adviser.
Let your grass do the work!
July grass has the potential to produce up to 18 litres of milk but most farms are not achieving anywhere near this! In County Armagh I am seeing farms with the following levels:
|Average daily milk yield||23.2 litres per cow|
|Average daily concentrate fed||5.7 kilos per cow|
|Average daily milk from forage||10 litres per cow|
|Average daily concentrate feed rate||0.25 kilos per litre|
Good grazing conditions, previously topped swards and the availability of after-grass means your herd has the opportunity to graze good quality grass and you should target 18 litres.
At the current milk price, use in-parlour feeding to target concentrates to those cows that most need supplementary feeding. Stale cows that are yielding less than 18 litres should not receive any concentrates - let your grass do the work, but higher yielding cows need fed.
Set feeding based on your conditions as indicated in the table below:
|Cow group||Grazed full-time||Grazed by day/housed by night||Housed cows (>40 litres)|
|Diet||Good supply of quality grass full-time||Quality grass by day and silage by night||Silage + 7kg blend|
|Set parlour feeding above||18 litres of milk||13 litres of milk (for each kilogramme of blend fed allow an additional 2 litres of milk)||20 litres of milk|
You should still apply 35 kg of nitrogen per hectare after each grazing round. Research at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute has shown calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) is the most effective source of fertiliser nitrogen during the summer months. Therefore apply 125 kg ‘chalk’ per hectare (50 kg bag per acre).
Condition scoring cows 200+ days in milk
Have a look at cows in the herd over 200 days milking and assess their body condition score. They should be about 2.5 condition score at the moment. Check fat cover over the loin, pelvis and tail areas. For condition score 2.5 the following apply:
- loin - there should be a slight depression along the cow’s top line and loin. The shelf at the end of the transverse processes and flank should be filling
- pelvis - there should be a good cover of tissue developing on the plates
- tail area - there should be a good cover of tissue over the pin bones and the cavity at the tail head should be filling
Cows that have not yet reached condition score 2.5 will need extra concentrate feeding if they are to achieve the target score at calving. Take this into account in your parlour feeding plan.
Whole crop – timing of harvest
During July walk your winter wheat crops to assess readiness for cutting by stripping the grain from a number of ears and squeezing the grain between your fingers. When the grain texture progresses from the sticky ‘brie cheese’ stage to a drier ‘soft cheddar’ texture, the crop is ready for cutting (approximately 40 per cent dry matter).
Standing crops are currently at various stages of maturity. Crops that received a comprehensive spray programme remain green with the ears starting to turn yellow. On inspection the grain texture is not completely ‘soft cheddar’ and also produces some ‘soft brie’. The percentage dry matter of these crops is in the low 30’s. These crops will require further inspection but are probably not more than seven days from harvest. Crops that showed some disease are now at the correct stage and increasing in dry matter. With potential ‘drying rates’ up to 2.5 units of dry matter daily there is a limited harvest window. If the dry matter exceeds 45 per cent, harvest the crop with equipment that incorporates a mill unit.
Harvesting and silo management affect the fermented silage. Direct cutting reduces grain loss. Long stubble gives higher energy silage; short stubble gives higher fibre silage. Make sure you apply the additive at the correct rate for the crop dry matter and yield. Preferably chop to 25 mm and fill a narrow pit that has side sheeting on the walls. Roll well during filling and cover the crop with a good layer of grass before covering with heavy gauge polythene and tyres.
Slurry and fertiliser for second cut silage
The online CAFRE Crop Nutrient Recommendation Calculator is useful for working out slurry and fertilizer requirements for second cut silage. At soil index 2 for phosphate and index 1 for potassium (potash), which is typical of fields regularly cut for silage, slurry has the potential to provide some of the nitrogen and potash and all of the phosphate for second cut silage. At these indices 22 cubic metres per hectare of dairy cow slurry (2,000 gallons per acre) and 375 kg per hectare (three bags per acre) of a 22:0:10 type fertilizer will meet second cut needs.
At a practical level spreading slurry evenly improves silage fermentation and minimizes sward damage.
Growing a low potash silage for dry cows
Silage for dry cows is different to that for milking cows. Aim for a low potash grass at cutting, as high potash silage is associated with metabolic disorders and subsequent poor milk yields in early lactation cows.
Fields which have been cut for first cut silage should not get slurry for this crop. An application of 315 kg per hectare (two and a half bags per acre) of CAN fertilizer is enough to grow a specific low potash silage crop for dry cows. Bale silage is ideal for feeding to dry cows. Leave cutting until early August as stem development coincides with a fall in grass potash levels. To avoid the risk of mould growth or mycotoxins don’t allow the dry matter of the harvested grass to rise above 35 per cent before baling.
It takes seven hectares to produce enough bales for feeding 100 cows in the last four weeks of the dry period. Store the bales separately and use them only for dry cow feeding.
Condition scoring late lactation cows
Cows calved last autumn are over 200 days in milk and should be condition scored any time now to ensure they are at condition score 2.75 at calving. Take a critical look at fat cover over the loin, pelvis and tail area.
- loin - there should be a slight depression along the cow’s top line and her loin. The shelf at the end of her transverse processes and flank should be filling.
- pelvis - there should be a good cover of tissue developing on the plates.
- tail area - there should be a good cover of tissue over the pin bones and the cavity at the tail head should be filling.
These cows should be about 2.5 condition score at the moment. If you have cows that have not yet reached this stage and are well past 200 days in milk then you need to increase their dry matter intake. Try feeding some rolled cereal.
Typical performance for June from the Co Armagh farms that we have been working with over the last few years is:
|Average daily milk yield||25 litres per cow|
|Average daily concentrate fed||6.1 kilos per cow|
|Average daily milk from forage||11 litres per cow|
|Average daily concentrate feed rate||0.25 kilos per litre|
During June continue to target 20 litres of milk for cows grazing full-time on a good supply of quality grass.
Successful silage making
Poor weather in May 2014 affected the quality of first cut silage, so be ready to start cutting this year when there is a period of good weather.
Walking through standing crops of grass allows you to assess grass growth stage. As a guide cut before 50 per cent ear emergence in the sward. Each week’s delay after this requires the feeding of an extra 2 kg of concentrates to achieve the same milking performance.
It is possible to predict when grass crops reach 50 per cent ear emergence. For swards based on early perennials cut around 10 May. Swards based on mid-season varieties will be ready to cut around 20 May. Cut late varieties in the first days of June. Walk your crops prior to these dates and check for ear emergence so that you can plan a cutting date.
Before mowing down, walk through the grass to assess grass dry matter (DM).The DM of the grass before mowing impacts on the amount of wilting required. If you want a 25 per cent DM silage do not leave the mown grass to dry longer than 24 hours. If your boots are wet after you walk through the grass, it has a DM of less than 20 per cent and will benefit from:
- mowing in dry weather
- mowing when sunshine is forecast
- spreading the crop evenly after mowing
- using a conditioner on the mower
On the other hand if your boots are dry, the crop has a DM of approximately 20 per cent and requires less active wilting. A light crop of grass, cut in good weather that has been spread after cutting, should be rowed and lifted within 24 hours to prevent the crop becoming too dry. If you have doubts about the weather at cutting time, use a well tested inoculant to improve fermentation.
During filling spread the grass evenly over the pit and roll continuously. Cover the pit if there are unavoidable breaks. Shape the top surface to allow rainwater to run off and seal the pit immediately after filling. Fold in the cover at the walls and cover with two top sheets. Use sandbags around the edge and weigh down the remainder to reduce surface waste.
Check and clean your silos and aprons and be ready to go! Empty the effluent tanks and keep in touch with your contractor.
Whole crop management
Iain Johnston, CAFRE Crop Development Adviser in Armagh advises that winter wheat crops should have received their first fungicide spray at growth stage 31, that is, start of stem extension and that the crop is ready for its second fungicide spray at growth stage 37, that is, when the flag leaf is out. Both will probably occur in early May. In all cases seek advice from a BASIS qualified Agronomist.
Typical May performance on the County Armagh farms that we have been working with over the last few year is shown below:
|Average daily milk yield||25.5 lires per cow|
|Average daily concentrate fed||6.2 kilos per cow|
|Average daily milk from forage||12 litres per cow|
|Average daily concentrate feed rate||0.24 kilos per litre|
At this stage you probably have cows on the farm at grass full or part-time.
|Grazing full time||Good supply of quality grass full-time||M+20|
|Grazing by day and housed by night||Quality grass by day and good silage by night||M+15|
Cows yielding in excess of the diet M+ require additional concentrates. Supplement concentrates in the parlour at 0.45 kg per litre of milk above M+.
If you need information on any of these topics contact your local CAFRE Dairying Development Adviser.
Cows at grass
Last month I encouraged you to walk your farm to see how much grass you have. You should now have cows grazing. Trying to avoid a ‘crash in milk yield’ is important as the yield of individual cows varies from 15 to 60 litres.
On local farms cows grazing quality grass during the day and eating silage at night, are being topped-up in the parlour after their first 15 litres of milk, at a rate of 0.45 kg of concentrate per litre. Ten kilogrammes of daily parlour feed (fed over two milkings) is therefore adequate for cows yielding up to 37 litres. Once cows are turned out restrict full-time parlour feeding to cows giving more than 20 litres. However, cows producing more than 37 litres still need access to a blend in the Total Mixed Ration (TMR).
The table below shows a practical spring transition:
|Mid April||Quality grass by day and silage by night||M+15|
|Early May||Good supply of quality grass full time||M+20|
The typical performance of the farms I work with in Co Armagh during April has been:
|Average daily milk yield||26 litres per cow|
|Average daily concentrate fed||7.9 kilos per cow|
|Average daily milk from forage||8.3 litres per cow|
|Average daily concentrate feed rate||0.30 Kilos per litres|
During April I will encourage these farmers to:
- separate their cows into yield groups for grazing or housing
- set a M+ of 15 litres for grazing cows
- parlour top-up concentrates to cows yielding above M+ at 0.45 kg per litre
- house cows yielding more than 37 litres and provide access to a TMR ration
- fine tune based on the daily milk docket and concentrate fed
Nitrogen for silage
A splash-plate application of 33 cubic metres per hectare (3000 gallons per acre) of cow slurry in February / March will have supplied adequate phosphate and potash for first cut silage. It will also have provided some nitrogen (N) for grass growth. You should now apply 100 kg of N per hectare (80 units per acre) to fields earmarked for first cut silage. Apply this as half a big bag of a 27% N fertiliser product per hectare.
Relieving soil compaction
Now is a suitable time to relieve problems caused by soil compaction. Treated fields will have better drainage and improved productivity. Dig test holes in affected fields (half the length of a spade) to determine the depth of the compacted layer. Signs of compaction include: a layer that is hard to break up, shallow roots growing horizontally, few worms, bad smell or grey colour and brown mottling. The depth of the compacted layer determines the type of machine that should be used to rectify the problem. Use a machine that reaches deep enough to lift and loosen the compacted layer when the soil is dry enough to fracture.
Benchmarking your dairy herd
Why not benchmark your dairy herd to see where improvements can be made. CAFRE Benchmarking identifies the strengths and weaknesses of your business enabling you to plan and compare your performance with similar farms. Contact your CAFRE Dairying Development Adviser for more information.
Cash flow planning
The fall in milk price has put the dairy industry under financial pressure. However dairying is still a profitable business and it is the lack of cash that is causing problems on farms. A cash flow budget is an important tool you can use to predict how the year will ‘pan out’ for your business.
All businesses need a sufficient supply of cash each month to meet essential costs. A cash flow shows the movement of money into and out of the business over a period of time and the knock-on effect on subsequent months. A simple spreadsheet is all that is needed to draw up an effective budget to provide you with the confidence to manage your finances. It is important it includes realistic estimates of performance, prices, costs and timescale. If a cash shortfall is likely it is vital you discuss your options and not ignore the problem. If additional borrowing is required it is always better to approach your bank sooner rather than later. Having a cash flow budget gives the bank confidence in you and your business.
Get more from grazed grass this season
Maximising the quantity of grass grown on farm, and grazing this grass by milking cows must be a priority over the next few months. The following are key points to consider.
Use soil analysis to establish slurry and fertiliser requirements. Grazing swards usually have good soil indices for phosphate (P) and potash (K) due to nutrient recycling.
If the soil analysis shows an index of three or above for both P and K there is no need to apply slurry or compound fertiliser. Straight nitrogen (N) after grazing will be sufficient all season. At a P Index of two an early application of 17 cubic metres of slurry per hectare (1500 gallons per acre) will supply soil phosphate requirements throughout the season.
Feed efficiency is critical at current milk price and getting grass into the diet is the most important factor in improving feed efficiency as we move into the grazing season.
How does your farm compare with the typical performance of the farms I work with in Armagh?
|Average daily milk yield||24.6 litres per cow|
|Average daily concentrate fed||7.9 kilos per cow|
|Average daily milk from forage||6.9 litres per cow|
|Average daily concentrate feed rate||0.32 kilos per litre|
Don't have a fixed turn-out date in your head. Walk the farm and see how much grass you have, you will have more than you think! Start cows grazing a field when the grass cover is 2800 kg dry matter per hectare (the ankle of your boot). Graze grass down to 1500 kg dry matter per hectare (the heel of your boot). Aim for an initial grazing rotation of between 25 and 30 days.
When cows start to go out, start them off on 5 kg dry matter per cow per day from grazed grass. This should take three to four hours of grazing. Build this up to half days over a period of a week to 10 days. View increasing grazed grass in the diet in the same way as setting up a winter ration. Assess grass fortnightly so you can accurately determine how much supplementation is needed throughout the season.
Whole crop management
Iain Johnston, CAFRE Crop Development Adviser in Armagh tells me that winter wheat for whole crop should receive 40 kg of N per hectare (32 units N per acre) when conditions allow to encourage tiller production and retention. He also recommends checking the crop for weeds, particularly if autumn herbicide was not applied and treat accordingly. In all cases get advice from a BASIS qualified agronomist.
If you require information on any of the above topics, contact your local CAFRE Dairying Development Adviser.
Nitrates Action Programme review
The Nitrates Action Programme review has resulted in changes which affect fertiliser rates for grassland farmers. These are marked with a * below.
- Soil test for phosphorus now has a 2- value and new recommendations for 2- for grass.
|Soil phosphorus index||Olsen extractable phosphorus (P) (mg P/L)|
Phosphorus recommendations for 1, 2, 3 and 4 cuts of grass silage and grazed grassland on soils of different P status.
|Soil P Index (Kg P2O5 per hectare)||0||1||2-*||2+||3||4|
|First cut silage||100||70||55*||40||20||0|
|Second cut silage||25||25||25*||25||0||0|
|Third cut silage||15||15||15*||15||0||0|
The availability of phosphate in manures for soils with a P index of 0 and 1 has been reduced from 100 per cent to 50 per cent for cattle and pig slurry and to 60 per cent for poultry and farmyard manures. This allows farmers who rely on livestock manures to more easily maintain soil P indices at optimum levels.
Now is the last opportunity to carry out soil analysis before spring slurry application. Determining the soil nutrient status for phosphorus (P) and potash (K) by soil testing means slurry applications can be targeted to silage fields that have tested low for P and K.
The optimum indices of 2- or 2+ for phosphorus and 2- for potassium will maximise crop yield from the most economic use of inputs. Further applications of P or K to soils with above optimum indices are not cost effective and applications of phosphate above the recommended rates, in most cases, will be in breach of the nitrates regulations.
Effective use of slurry
As a general rule for grassland farms, it is good practice to apply slurry to land that is used for silage. This makes best use of the nutrients in slurry and helps avoid nutrient shortfalls in the cutting ground. In grazing fields nutrients are recycled by the cattle as they graze. Thirty four cubic metres per hectare (3,000 gallons per acre) of cattle slurry supplies enough P and K for first cut silage (assuming soil indices for P are 2+ and K are 2-).
To get the best response from slurry and manure apply when grass is growing and try to avoid heavy applications in February.
AFBI research has shown that a splash-plate application of 45 cubic metres per hectare (4,000 gallons per acre) of cow slurry for a silage crop provides the same nitrogen (N) for grass growth as 2.5 small bags (50 kg) of 27 per cent N. Using a trailing shoe system instead of splash-plate to apply the slurry almost doubles the efficiency of N use, allowing a saving of another two bags of fertiliser per hectare.
When details of soil analysis results and previous cropping history are entered into the CAFRE Crop Nutrient Recommendation Calculator (available at www.ruralni.gov.uk) it calculates crop nutrient requirements whilst keeping within nitrate and phosphate regulations. This Calculator also takes account of the time and method of slurry application when calculating how much N to apply to first cut silage. Allow for improved N availability when deciding how much fertiliser to apply to first cut. There is unlikely to be a yield response to applying a total of more than 120 kg N per hectare for first cut.
Typical February performance
How does your farm compare with the typical performance from the Co Armagh farms that I work with?
|Average daily milk yield||24.2 litres per cow|
|Average daily concentrate fed||8.6 kilos per cow|
|Average daily milk from forage||5.1 litres per cow|
|Average daily concentrate feed rate||0.35 kilos per litre|
Feed efficiency is critical at current milk price. The most important issue is to target concentrate feeding to those cows which need it most. Feed to yield cows calved more than two months over the TMR M+ at a rate of 0.45 kg per litre for the previous seven day average yield. The heifer M+ setting should be 2 litres less than that for cows. Silage quality dictates feed rate and therefore milk from forage. A number of farmers have been able to reduce the feed rate to 6.5 kg for the same level of performance by maximizing silage intake. This has resulted in feed savings of almost £350 per 100 cows per week. Monitor both milk protein content and body condition as these are early indicators of feed levels set too low against target milk yield.
It’s the New Year and it is time to make resolutions! Make farm safety your number one resolution. At this time of year you may be transferring slurry from one tank to another. If so, be aware of the danger from slurry gases.
Getting the cow back in calf
Breeding is well underway. Cows that are six weeks calved should have displayed a heat and are past their ‘voluntary waiting period’. Heats seen after this should be bred and a record of the service made on farm software.
Assess breeding efficiency by working out the submission rate for the last three weeks - how many cows that completed their ‘voluntary waiting period’ three weeks ago have been served? This answers the question “how many cows did I serve that were eligible to be served in the last 21 days?” The answer should be - all of them! If not, there is a problem with heat detection on your farm.
There is a lot of variability in silage quality on farms and wet silage is a real issue. The main problem with wet silage is the high levels of lactic acid which can lead to acidosis in cows. Classic signs of acidosis include loose dung, undigested meal in the dung, dirty / wet flanks and tail switching. If acidosis is a problem on your farm contact your nutritionist, as it can be easily solved.
Good clamp management is required to prevent further deterioration in forage quality. Make sure shear grab blades are sharp enough to ensure a clean cut each time.
How much does electricity cost for a dairy cow in a year?
Results from CAFRE benchmarked dairy herds show that a typical dairy cow uses one unit (kWh) of electricity per day - 365 kWh per year. Thetotal cost of electricity is almost £50 per cow per year. This is based on 40 per cent usage during the night and electricity costs of 16.05 pence per kWh by day and 8.89 pence per kWh at night.
Survey data from Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland show the electricity demand as follows:
|Lighting and other smaller objects||11%|
The actual proportions used vary from farm to farm. For example, in the old Greenmount Campus dairy unit the vacuum pump accounted for only 11% of total usage.
Reasons why usage may vary include:
- farms with ice bank tanks or ice builders feeding a plate cooler use a greater percentage of electricity for milk cooling.
- modern water heaters tend to be better insulated than those installed many years ago.
- variable speed vacuum pumps give substantial savings compared to more conventional vane pumps.
For further information on benchmarking the electricity used on your farm contact David Trimble, Greenmount Campus, 028 9442 6682.