Preparing for Spring Grass

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

Many dairy farmers will calve down more cows, and probably more compactly, in 2015.  Milk price is coming under pressure and the quota problem has not gone away either.  Therefore every day your cows can spend at grass is going to have a massive effect on your costs of production. So aim to complete, as much preparation as you can in January, for grazing in February.


Key point:  Every day that one of your cows spends at grass in the spring is worth €2.70/cow/day additional profit. Most of this comes in the form of cost savings. So if your herd of 70 cows are out grazing, this is worth close to €190/day. This figure doesn’t include any health benefits to the cow (e.g. SCC) or savings on spreading slurry.


An extra week at grass for a 70 cow herd in spring is worth €1,323!


Fertiliser Nitrogen

Sometimes in the second half of January, we can get a reasonable period of weather that may allow the application of fertilizer nitrogen.  Urea is normally the product of choice as it is ‘safer’ to use when conditions are wetter.  The normal recommendation is 23 units applied/acre.  Some dairy farmers often suggest a ‘slow’ response to this application, but once two mild days are achieved after spreading, the fertiliser will enter into the root system of the plant.  This nitrogen will then be utilised by the plant and growth will occur when the temperatures allow BUT there will be a response.  


Since the growth of grass during November and December has been better than normal, fertiliser nitrogen will have to be used more so than slurry to get grass moving.  Many paddocks are currently (mid-December) carrying more grass than normal, so the application of slurry will be more restricted initially until paddocks are grazed.


Key point: Urea applications in January give a good grass growth response but you may not see it until the weather becomes mild.


Slurry Application

Many farmers will be keen to get slurry out from mid-January on.  The response in grass growth observed by farmers to slurry application is often very favourable.  One of the main reasons for this is that slurry also contains P (Phosphorus) and K (Potassium).  Since most soils in Munster are deficient in P and K (not to mention Lime) it is no surprise to see a better response to slurry application, as P (Phosphorus) is essential for early spring growth.  The challenge though this year (apart from the weather) will be to have enough paddocks with a low enough cover of grass to spread slurry upon.  So the sooner grazing gets started in the spring, the greater the opportunity to spread slurry.


Key point: Target early grazing to create opportunities to spread slurry (only spread slurry on paddocks with a low grass cover).



60% of the grassland in Munster is currently deficient in lime.  This means that P (Phosphorous) will be ‘locked up’ in the soil until lime is applied. It also means that there is a lower response to Nitrogen fertiliser. 

Lime is the key to unlocking soil Phosphorus


Some level of lime spreading has taken place in November and December; Lime can still be spread in January if the weather allows you to travel on the land.  Generally most farmers should spread 2 tonne/ac of ground lime.  Soil test results may suggest a stronger application of lime but the maximum application of 3 ton/ac is recommended.  For those who farm on heavy land 2 tonne/ac should be the maximum application of lime. If lime is spread in January, then either CAN or a compound (preferably) like 18-6-12 should be applied rather than Urea.


Key point: Lime is key to ‘unlocking’ P in the soil and improving the response to N fertiliser.


“A Stitch in Time”

Once calving begins, the time available to do other jobs becomes severely restricted on most farms.  So all repairs or upgrades to water, fencing, roadways, paddock access should all be completed in January if not done so already.  Now is the eleventh hour so have your paddock system ready before the workload with calving begins.  Your contractor should also be considered for spreading slurry and fertiliser.


Go for a walk for the new year!

After enjoying the Christmas festivities and probably eating well, it would be nice to go for a walk around the farm and soil test.  Soil fertility is at a chronic low on grassland farms.  The first step in trying to address soil fertility is to soil test.  There is less than two weeks in January before fertiliser or slurry can be spread.  The time is NOW!!


Key point: Prepare for a new grass season by ensuring all repairs/upgrades and soil tests are up to date.

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