As we head out of the wettest summer on record how do we capitalise on the good conditions and turn it into ongoing benefit for our business?
The key areas centre on maximizing pasture growth, establishing new pastures and winter crops early and planning our approach to the winter period.
The importance of having the correct pasture rotation length and achieving 3 leaf-stage is the most crucial in the autumn and winter period.
This is because we can build a large wedge of pasture and don’t have to worry about pastures that are going to seed and cause associated pasture quality issues.
Our demand for pasture from grazing animals is also higher than our pasture growth rates so we know confidently we can consume the extra pasture we grow.
Achieving the desired rotation for most farmers should be easier this year as we still have actively growing pasture and we generally have good supplement reserves.
The two key tools to achieving the desired rotation length are supplement reserves, particularly silage, and nitrogen fertilizer.
Silage should be used to extend the rotation to the correct length then nitrogen should be used to support strong growth rates.
Silage input should be adjusted relative to the impact on milk production per cow, as we want the extension of rotation length to be as smooth as possible. As with all changes in diet, cows will need time to adjust so be proactive with the amount of silage fed.
It is a general observation that most people underestimate how much silage they are offering cows, so bear this in mind.
The use of nitrogen in an autumn after a wet summer is quite important as we don’t see the usual amount of mineralisation of nitrogen when autumn rains come, so you may need to increase your rate of nitrogen to compensate for this, typically 30-40 kg/ha of Nitrogen will be sufficient.
Bear in mind other nutrients like potassium may well be limiting growth as well, though decisions about potassium need to be made on an individual farm basis.
The establishment of new pastures and winter crops is also crucial as we head into autumn. It has become common practice to sow new pastures and crops relatively late. This has been largely driven by the late autumn breaks we have had over recent years.
Now that we are in March, new pasture and most crops should be established immediately to maximize the growth potential through the next few months until the winter.
Managed well, new pastures should be back into the grazing rotation well before the end of the season.
This makes a significant difference to your winter feed planning and management.
The importance of preparation and supporting new plants with the correct fertilizer will help maximize the pasture’s potential both in the short and long term, so don’t overlook this.
A product like DAP at 50-100 kg/ha at sowing helps new pastures get off to an excellent start by supplying phosphorus and nitrogen.
As we head into the autumn start thinking about your winter management plan, as it is looking likely that a wet winter is next on our list of seasons.
The effective use of pasture, forage crops, supplements and off farm grazing will require planning to ensure wet soils don’t limit our potential for the new season.