by Sandra Hayes, Teagasc
Some farms around the county are about to, or are already in a period of drought. Due to a lack of rainfall over the last few weeks grass growth rates have fallen back. According to Met Eireann there is little likelihood of rain falling over the next week. If long range forecasts are to be believed, there will be no rain before August 1, so preparation must be made now.
Highly stocked dairy farms are vulnerable to this slow down in grass growth. This is further complicated by the fact acquiring enough winter feed is a priority for many farms. The recent fodder census suggests 66% of farms expect to be short of silage this winter. It is also important to remember our quota situation with many Co-Ops now on target or coming close to July targets. This is compounded by the extra 100,000 cows that calved this spring. Extra livestock, poor grass growth and deficient winter feed supplies mean that we have to look at reducing our demand on grass/silage now. Tackling any feed deficit, due to dry or wet weather problems, is a multi-pronged approach in which reducing animal demand has a major role.
It is essential to try to hold grass supply as far as possible on the farm now, for several reasons: Grass grows grass (low cover grows less); Any dew/moisture is â€œtrapped betterâ€; Grazed out/topped fields burn up/dry out much quicker; Facilitates fertiliser application and uptake.
It is important to act now to minimise the effect of reduced grass growth before a major drought becomes a reality. Giving cows additional feed now will help to lengthen the time each grazing paddock has to return to its pre grazing target. Farmers have to identify their key priority - feed deficit now or winter feed deficit? Remember to keep up with the spreading of nitrogen fertiliser until there is little or no visible grass growth apparent. Where possible, apply in the evening and where a cover of grass exists to help enable fertiliser uptake. Trying to grow as much grass as possible is the main aim despite weather working against it.