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The results from over 1,400 grass silage samples sent to the Dairygold laboratory for analysis are in, and there is very little difference in the average DMD (feeding value) of silage made in 2014 versus 2013 (69.4 versus 69.1) or in the crude protein level (11.7 versus 11.8). Averages from the last five years are shown in the graphics below.   
Dairygold Silage Analysis Average DMD by Year (2010-2014)
Dairygold Silage Analysis Average Crude Protein by Year (2010-2014)
Averages can hide a multitude however; and there are large variances between and within farms as can be seen in the pie charts below.
Range of Silage DMD levels in 2014
Range of Silage Crude Protein % in 2014
It’s a powerful reminder that nobody should rely on guess-work for determining silage Quality. Recommended concentrate supplementation rates for milking cow will vary by up to 3Kg per head per day for <60 DMD silages versus >70 DMD silages. 
Key point: We recommend testing all silage, each pit / cut of bales to accurately determine supplementation rates

The bottom line is that you must keep grass in the diet of your dairy cows as much as possible during March.  There are many reasons for this but primarily it is to lower your cost of milk production.  This is especially true when we examine our quota position. Many farmers are going to find themselves running (if not already) over quota during March.  Therefore keeping grass in the diet of the cow as much as possible will allow meal feeding to be reduced to 2-3Kg/cow and help with quota problems.


There are other substantial benefits to your cows from early turnout. These include: 

Improved Milk Solids

Lower SCC

Improved Health

Better Body Condition


Key point

The more grass you get into your cows in March, the more money you save. 


Grass Supply

There is generally no shortage of grass on farms.  For those who measure, the average grass cover recorded on PastureBase in mid-February was 800Kg/DM/Ha. So the only challenge left to overcome is the weather factor.  As long as ground conditions are adequate underfoot – you can graze your cows both day and night.  When ground conditions are difficult, then put practices in place to keep grass in the diet of your cows without causing serious damage to the land.  These practices include:

Grazing for a few hours after each milking

Using different entry and exit points to the paddock

Grazing low covers of grass in difficult grazing conditions

It is important though that once a paddock/section is grazed during difficult weather that a back fence is put up to prevent cows going back onto this area.


Key point

Grass is plentiful so wet weather and preventing serious damage to land is the challenge to grazing this March. Management practises can help you overcome this challenge. 


Spring Grazing Plan

Getting cows to graze in early spring not only reduces costs and is beneficial to the cow but is also good for the grass plant.  Grazing stimulates the grass plant to grow and also helps you achieve good sward quality for the rest of the grazing season.


Your grazing targets for March should be:

Have 65% of your farm grazed by St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th)

Finish your first round of grazing by early April


The aim for the month of February was to get about 30% of the farm grazed by March 1st.  Feedback on the ground would suggest that some farmers have struggled to achieve this target despite the reasonable weather.  We know grass supply is generally good on farms and diet, her appetite for grass is compromised i.e. grass intake is reduced.  So we need to get cows grazing by day and night in March to catch up and remove silage (if not eliminate) it from the diet as much as possible.  Having piles of silage in front of the cows will reduce their urge to graze.  If silage does have to be fed, then it should be fed to the minimum level.  Cows should have no silage left in front of them a few hours before being turned out to graze. You will not reach your grazing targets if cows have free access to silage.


Don’t compromise intake of grass-Remove the silage from the diet as soon as possible.


It is important to keep an eye on the recovery of paddocks grazed in February during March to ensure that enough grass is available in early April. Therefore you must walk the farm!!!!For those who measure grass, the average farm cover should not drop below 500kg DM/ha at any time, otherwise grass growth will be compromised.


Keep an eye on the recovery of paddocks grazed in February during March to ensure that enough grass is available in early April.


Key point 

Many farmers failed to reach the target of having 30% of their farm grazed by March 1st – so get your cows grazing day and night and eliminate silage from the diet as soon as possible to meet the next grazing target of 65% of the farm grazed by March 17th.  


It is important to keep grass growing on your farm. Grass will need to recover after grazing and be ready to graze again in the first half of April.  So Nitrogen fertiliser needs to be spread. The target is to have 60-70 units of Nitrogen applied to every acre (grazed and ungrazed) before April 1st for most dairy farms. This nitrogen target can be achieved through a combination of slurry (6 units N/1000 gals) and fertiliser.


The soil fertility problem has not gone away. 90 % of soils in Munster are deficient in P, K or lime. While slurry has P and K in it, it may not be appropriate for applying to grazing ground in latter half of March. So many farmers should consider spreading nitrogen compounds e.g. 18-6-12 to help improve soil fertility.  Phosphorus (P) in particular is very important for growth of grass in spring.


60-70 units of N /acre needs to be applied before April 1st. Applying a product like 18:6:12 will help improve soil fertility.


Key point 

To have grass available for grazing after the first round you need to spread Nitrogen-Every acre should have received 60-70 units by 1st April. Phosphorus is also very important for grass growth in spring, so consider using a compound e.g. 18-6-12.  


Let Replacements out to Grass

Often the dairy replacements are left until last to be turned out to grass.  These animals are normally kept on out-farms.  There is plenty of grass on many out-farms.  Replacements are capable of very good weight gains (1Kg/hd/day) when turned out early.  In fact, the lightest replacements should be turned out first to grass even if the full group isn’t (which they should be!).  Replacements could also be used to graze cow grazing area if you are running well behind on getting 65% of the farm grazed by St. Patricks Day.

Get in touch 

For further help and advice contact your local Agri representative

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