Dairylink farms focused on utilising grazed grass

22nd August 2015

Dairylink farms focused on utilising grazed grass

Dairylink adviser Conail Keown looks at the management practices adopted by programme farmers.

To manage the current squeeze on margins, a number of the Dairylink programme farmers have re-focused their attention on to factors they can control, namely the performance of their herd and the management of their farm with particular emphasis on daily running costs.

From a financial perspective, monthly cashflow must be the number one priority.

Taking control of farm spending and identifying the peaks and troughs in cashflow on each individual farm will make a difference in the current financial climate, and may be the only way a farm business can survive.

Making grass work!

Grazed grass has been proven through research and independent studies to be the cheapest feed available for milking cows, and should therefore be the primary element in a cow’s diet, especially given current financial pressure on dairy farm margins.

On many farms, concentrates account for two-thirds of direct milk production costs, yet at the same time grass is often under-utilised. In many cases, cows are grazing grass covers that are much too heavy, while being supplemented with unnecessarily high levels of concentrate.

Increasing utilisation of grazed grass in the diet and reducing concentrate feeding will reduce production costs.

August grass has the potential to produce up to 17 litres of milk per cow per day, with good grazing conditions, quality swards and the availability of after-grass. This offers many farms the potential to save up to 4kg of concentrates per cow per day.

However, the fact is that many farms are not achieving this. Farmers should proactively target the use of grazed grass in the summer months.

Proactive approach

Walking the grazing area and observing what grass you have in terms of quantity and quality is a proactive step that can easily be taken.

During late August, as much of the farm as possible should be available for grazing to allow covers to rise. Rotation length should be 24 or 25 days.

Pre-grazing yields should be around 1,500kg DM/ha (3,000kg DM/ha available). At this stage it is too late to be taking out surplus paddocks for silage as this grass will be required to build up covers.

Table 1: Average grass growth rates at Ballyhaise, Co Cavan

Long-term strategy

Maximising grass growth and utilisation will be incorporated into the long-term plan for all Dairylink farms. To take full advantage of the cost advantage grass offers, you must first be able to grow it well, and then be able to utilise it. Investment in soil fertility, reseeding (especially on the grazing platform), increasing days at grass and investment in infrastructure will all help. On many farms reducing costs in the short term may help the situation. However, if significant additional financial assistance is required from outside the farm, maybe a more radical change to the production system is required to keep the business viable.

Farmer Focus: Kevin McGrade - Fintona Co Tyrone

Flexibility in the production system is a key factor for Kevin McGrade in Co Tyrone.

Managing cows in difficult weather conditions and on a heavy clay soil type can be a considerable challenge which requires an ability to react to specific conditions. Kevin has adopted a similar proactive approach to the current downturn in profitability in milk production, which has been helped by his development of a production system to cope with such adverse conditions.

Nonetheless, he admits the current pressure on margins is proving to be a challenge: “Feed is the single biggest cost for all dairy farmers so maximising production from relatively cheap feed like grazed grass and forage on my farm is where my focus is. My cow type and calving profile have allowed me to reduce concentrate feeding and really concentrate on getting milk from grass.”


Kevin has developed a compact winter-calving herd which calves between September and December. Historically, breeding focused on milk components with annual butterfat of 4.56% and protein of 3.56% for the herd, but more recently he has shifted the breeding focus to cow fertility and hopes to further improve both the current 391-day calving interval and the herd’s 55% conception to first service achieved last year.

With the cost of infertility rising on all farms, Kevin is convinced cow fertility is a key area on his farm where more financial savings can be made than if he focused solely on daily production costs.

McGrade herd performance 2014/15

Herd size 120

Milk yield (litres) 7,100

Concentrate feeding (kgs) 1,500

Milk from forage (litres) 3,800

Butterfat % 4.48

Protein % 3.54

Calving pattern Sep– Dec

Calving Index (days) 391

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of the Irish Farmers Journal. Please click on the below Irish Farmers Journal logo to be brought to additional dairy articles

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