Dairylink Ireland - Kevin McGrade farm grass update

30th June 2016

Dairylink Ireland - Kevin McGrade farm grass update

Dairylink programme participant Kevin McGrade outlines his approach to grass management.

I have skipped a lot of paddocks and taken the grass off in bales this month on the farm. This is how I manage grass quality on the farm. We don’t top or pre-cut grass on the grazing block; all paddocks are available for grazing and all are available for silage.

At this stage, we have cut nearly all paddocks for baled silage at least once since the start of May. The two key advantages of this approach are keeping grass quality high, with cows grazing silage regrowths, and my silage quality is also high with young leafy grass, which has just got ahead for cows to graze.

On the downside, I am not fully utilising nitrogen spread on this silage. When the silage is baled, only covers between 1,800 and 2,200 available are cut. More time would allow this grass to bulk up and I would capitalise more on the chemical nitrogen invested.

On average, the grass ahead of the cows is good quality, with low levels of stem in the sward. Growth has slowed this week, but the rain over the past weekend will help keep growth moving.

At this stage, I have all the surplus grass removed from the grazing block and all paddocks are included in the grass wedge for the farm. Cows are followed with 28 units of nitrogen on the grazing block.

Heifer-rearing focus

Rearing replacement heifers can be a major drain on farm resources. Land required for heifers and the labour involved to get heifers calving at 24 months is significant. I have looked at contract rearing for my heifers and have yet to find a suitable and like-minded farmer willing to enter into an arrangement with me for heifer rearing.

The advantage for me would be great – I would be able to carry more cows on my grazing block, the daily workload would be lower without the heifer enterprise on farm and, most important, I would be able to dedicate all my time to the main milking herd which generates income.

Yes, the cash cost of contracting out heifer rearing is significant, but the reality is I am incurring the cost regardless with my existing heifer enterprise.

All replacements are born on farm between 20 August and 7 October, which allows heifers to calve down at 24 months in the autumn.

Currently, I have an eight-week window for heifer calves to be born on the farm. I would like to reduce this to six weeks to get a more uniform group of heifer calves.

At the last weight check in mid-April, my then seven-month-old calves ranged in weight from 178kg to 232kg, with an average for this group of 195kg.

This group has an eight-week spread in age, which has filtered into the liveweight. From the previous weight check, which was at weaning, this group has put on 0.9kg/day.

The in-calf heifers are on target for a calving weight of 550kg. The average weight for this group is 517kg, with another 68 days before calving, which is 0.55kg/day weight gain – well within reach for these heifers on grass.

From a breeding perspective, the heifers are housed three weeks before breeding, which starts on 22 November. I always get a drop in liveweight when heifers come into sheds. Last year, my heifers came in at 381kg and dropped back to 350kg just as breeding started.

I have started introducing 2kg of concentrate to reduce the weight loss, but I still get the drop in liveweight once heifers come in.

Breeding for the heifers is synchronised using a CIDR programme. The programme got 70% conception to first service for my current group of heifers and has worked well for me regarding time management and enables me to get a specialist to AI heifers.

McGrade mating programme 2015

Day 1 CIDR goes in (10 days prior)

Day 7 Prostaglandin injection

Day 8 CIDR out (morning)

Day 10 Mate all 12-4pm

Day 22 CIDR back in

Day 29 CIDR out; mate on observation

From a cost perspective, I don’t feel much more can be removed from my heifer-rearing costs. The three main costs are forage, concentrate and labour.

Last year, heifers got 395kg/head concentrate, which was mostly fed at weaning. Ultimately, I would like to contract out the heifers, which I feel would work well.

Our heifer-rearing is based on liveweight targets for weaning, breeding and calving, and therefore should be easy to replicate on a contract-rearing farm.

In the short term, my focus is on reducing the number of replacements actually needed for the main milking herd. This means breeding for longevity and good animal health traits.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of the Irish Farmers Journal. Please click on the below Irish Farmers Journal logo to be brought to additional dairy articles

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