Managing peak growth

Published 9 May 14

April and May are times of rapid change. Moving from sluggish growth to exponential in days rather than weeks, especially as the nights get warmer. This was reflected in grass growth coming from 10, 20 and 30kg DM/ha/day to 50s, 70s, 90s and 100+ in some areas, says Piers Badnell, technical extension officer for DairyCo.

To manage this: observe, measure, monitor and act so you don’t get left behind by this rapid growth. The fall-out of getting left behind is compromising quantity, quality, palatability in subsequent rounds and waste acceleration, this situation is then difficult to get control of.

“So push your grass and get in front of it, as ryegrass thrives on hard work. You should only see enough grass in front of you at this time of year for two to three days, don’t be concerned that peak of growth is coming,” he says.

“Part of getting ahead, is getting out early to set up the grass wedge. This requires access via tracks, these can be made from stone or railway sleepers, both are invaluable. Getting cows out early saves feed costs and housing costs (from my calculations on various farms this can be between £1 and £2/cow/day). Furthermore, a member of one of DairyCo’s discussion groups calculated he saved £100 a day on feed and housing costs with 120 cows by getting the cows out for just three hours in January and February, when the weather was suitable. For £100 you can buy between 4 and 8 metres of railway sleepers (depending on purchase cost at 4 per running metre) and the lifetime of a sleeper? Tens of years with no maintenance.

“Having the cows out early requires flexibility. Bringing the cows back in when the weather turns bad is no problem early in the season as grass dry matter intakes will be in single figures.

“Over five years Forage for Knowledge has shown that well managed, rotationally grazed grass delivers 12 ME grass all year round and crude protein levels average out at 25%. So there is an opportunity and a need to reduce any crude protein level in supplementary feeding to save money.”

When should cows go out fully night and day?

The answer to this is dependent on the supply of grass (area and growth rate) and the demand (cow numbers and dry matter intake). To ascertain this, plate metering will deliver the base information and stockmanship fine tunes this. So make sure the wedge and average farm cover (about 2,000kg DM/ha by early May) is correct, then you can make the decisions on having cows out 24 hours.”

Which cows to graze? Piers would consider that in a 7,500-8,000 litre plus herd the grazing cow is in calf and below 30 litres; 30 litres+ and not in calf will require a lot more supplementation. With well managed grass for grazing based genetic cows then supplementation should be used to fill in shortages in grass supply.

“Cost of production on all systems is the key driver of profit; utilising grass well is a key driver to reducing cost of production.”