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Investing in grazing infrastructure to achieve a long grazing season

The following article is published in Lakeland Dairies / Teagasc Joint Development Programme’s innovative and informative 28-page booklet.

The booklet contains recommendations, tips and case studies, aimed at making farm life easier for Lakeland Dairies’ milk suppliers.

Eugene and Brian McGinnity are milking 90 cows in Knockatallon, Co. Monaghan. Their land is heavy, but this does not deter them from continually investing in grazing infrastructure, enabling them to achieve a long grazing season.

Getting the milking batch of cows out to grass early in spring is a huge priority for us. We aim to get the milking group out to grass every day for at least three hours. Last year, we only had the cows in for six days from February 1st to April 5th.

To achieve this, we use a number of techniques:

On-off grazing for three hours helps get grass in the diet with limited damage to fields. We often do this twice in one day.

  • Letting the cows to grass after the morning and 3pm afternoon milking if ground conditions are difficult.
  • Spur roadways to get to the back of paddocks.
  • Back fencing areas which are already grazed.
  • Multiple entrance points to paddocks.
  • Water troughs located in the centre of paddocks for strip grazing.
  • Continued investment in land drainage.

When cows are at grass in spring, along with the yield increase, cows’ udders are cleaner. This would reduce the milking time by 10 minutes. Time foddering is reduced when the cows are out at grass.

The cubicles only have to be scraped and bedded once-a-day which would save me 25 minutes each day when the cows are out.

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Grass measuring is done every week on our farm. It allows us to make the correct grassland management decisions. It reduces time spent topping on our farm. Our paddocks are nearly never topped. Heavy covers are baled out.

Other grazing tips:

  • Have lots of reels and posts in a fixed location in the yard.
  • Cows have the best appetite after milking, so offer grass first and silage after if needed.
  • When on/off grazing for three hours there is no need for water.
  • Tunnels or underpasses are a long-term investment leaving the herding of cows much easier. It also reduces the need for the second person.
  • Grass measuring reduces the amount of time topping and improves grass utilisation.

Day-to-day advantages of good roadways

  • Cows will travel faster to and from the milking parlour which could save 5-15 minutes per milking walking in cows.
  • Cleaner roadways. The smooth surface will not irritate cows thereby reducing the cow dungs on the roadway. This, in turn, will mean cows will be cleaner, thus, improving SCC.
  • Fewer lame cows. Maintained and smooth roadways will reduce problems with hoof health.

What does one week’s grazing mean on your farm?

  • Silage saved: 100 cows housed for a week will eat 9T/DM of silage which is 44 bales.
  • Slurry saved: 100 cows housed full-time produce 33M3 of slurry or 7,250 gallons of slurry each week.
  • Concentrate saved: Extra concentrate will have to be fed to maintain milk yield.
  • Silage diets can see a reduction of milk protein of up to 0.15%.
  • Improved health: cows grazing have lower SCC and reduced lameness.

Image source: Lakeland Dairies / Teagasc Joint Development Programme

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