Conor Camon farms in partnership with his parents, Padraig and Mary, outside Cloghan in Co Offaly. They recently hosted a Teagasc signpost walk, where grassland management, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, water quality and breeding were discussed.

They are milking 100 cows on 36ha, with a stocking rate of 3.7LU/ha. The herd has an EBI of €235, a six-week calving interval of 91% and milk solids sold per cow of around 480kg.

Grass management

Explaining how he managed heavy covers and wet ground over the past couple of weeks, Conor said that “around 20% of the first round of the grazing platform was zero grazed, I had never done that before. I sacrificed the cost (of zero grazing) over leaving grass behind in paddocks. There were heavy covers and the cows would have left too much behind them.

“In terms of fertiliser, it was delayed until grazing started. Since then, everywhere has got a bag of urea. We will go with a small compound to replenish it and ensure there is some phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) going into it.

“Silage ground is all closed up at the moment, it hasn’t been grazed. Some of it got slurry in January and some got slurry in February. I was taking the opportunities as they came to get the slurry out.

“The silage ground also got 70 units of fertiliser, so hopefully we’ll be cutting around 20 May. Last year I took a big, bulky first cut and the quality wasn’t great. I probably won’t be taking a second cut, as there is a good bit of silage left.”

Conor went from feeding silage to making it almost in the space of a week. He cut a paddock for silage on Monday, 22 April, and baled it on Tuesday evening, 23 April, however, he said that it was not abnormal and that most years he would bale one or two of the first-round paddocks.

On the day of the farm walk, his farm cover is averaging around 900kg DM, and with growth being high too, pre-grazing yields are higher than he would like.

Grass measuring

Last year, Conor measured grass 42 times.

“I do as many as I can, or as many as I have to. When I’m bringing in the cows morning and evening, I don’t get a chance to focus on the paddocks. I feel the grass measuring focuses me on watching grass and managing grass.

“You’ll know by walking the grass if you need to change the meal in the parlour, or use the bales made a few weeks ago. I have no problem using the bales that were made this week. It’s what we do all the time and it’s not a problem.”

Plan ahead

Now is the time to analyse the grass situation and plan ahead – that was the main message from Teagasc dairy specialist in Ballyhaise, James Dunne.

“There have been years where only 20-30% of farms got grazed by the end of April, but ultimately we have to correct where the platforms are at.”

He advised to graze the lighter covers first and to get through as much area as you can.

“There will come a point where you will have to take out some of the first-round grass, don’t leave it until the first cut is done. If it is taken out in the next 10 days, come 20 May when the first round is being done, there will be 20 days of growth on that paddock.

“It is key for cow performance not to be grazing 1,700-1,800kg/DM covers throughout May or June. The single biggest impact on cow performance in May and June will be grazing grass that is too heavy. We have an opportunity now to rectify that.”

Feed budget

If there is anything to be taken from this winter, it’s that ample supply of feed, and good-quality feed is crucial.

Dunne encouraged everyone to do a feed budget over the coming weeks – how much can you make this year through first and second cuts, and is there a possibility of a third cut? An early first cut ensures quality and also allows for a decent second cut. Letting grass run on into June and getting a bulky first cut kicks the second cut down the line and reduces feed quality and yield.

“The 20 May is the target for first-cut silage. When the first cut is got, reset, get slurry and fertiliser out and go for a second cut. Around 60-70% of silage in the yard needs to be milking quality standard, which is around 75% DMD. In order for this to be got, silage must be made mid-May. As we run into June it will be harder to reach the early 70s. If there is a deficit in feed, look at sourcing additional feed. It is easier to buy dry cow feed than milking cow silage. Put the milking cow feed in the pit or bales and source dry cow feed.

“With the poor spring, there will be more maize put in, in tillage areas, and some farmers may need to look at that. Having additional straw or hay for that dry period gives you options next winter. Put a plan in place now for the winter feeding,” he said.

Damaged paddocks

Most people have some level of undesired damage done to the ground.

Dunne explained that this is expected with extended seasons and they will always result in a certain amount of damage.

“If there isn’t (damage), you’d probably say that the cows should have been out more than they were.”

While everyone does their best to prevent damage, “you’ll always get it wrong by a day or two”.

In terms of managing these paddocks, he said that “if the soil fertility is good and the perennial ryegrass is good, such as in recent reseeds, damaged paddocks will recover well. If there is a phosphorus (P) allowance on the farm, a compound will work well. P will help the grass to tiller and recover.

“If the paddock is index 4, the P is there and additional P shouldn’t be needed. If it is a bit lower, go out with the P and K,” he advised.

He told farmers to consider using a chain harrow if they are very damaged, and to avoid using a roller at all costs, as it causes compaction.

“If there is a paddock damaged that you planned on reseeding, do it now when the weather allows.”