Winter housing for grazing herds is now upon us, with some now housed full time, some housed at nights and others thinking about it. With the recent dry warm weather, grazing covers remain strong and the urge to keep grazing remains. Recent fresh grass analysis would show reasonable energy levels, seasonally good levels of crude protein and NDF, but with low Dry Matter levels.

It is the Dry Matter levels that have in some cases caused yields from grass to decline over recent weeks, with cows physically unable to consume enough grass to meet dry matter requirements.

When cows reach this point, and with grazing quality slowly declining, housing/buffer feeding decisions should be driven by cow performance. Although ground conditions are good if intakes from grass are declining, daylight hours are shortening and grass quality is compromised a decision needs to be made.

Forage Quality

As always at this time of year, analysing forage stocks for the winter ahead is crucial. Generally forage stock levels seem to be good heading into winter, although certain areas were really struggling during the extreme dry weather, with some farmers being very concerned for the winter ahead, most seem to have recovered since the rain came.

That said, we are seeing through our analysis, a wide variation between cuts. Crude Protein levels generally appear to be lower than average but energy levels are higher than usual. Sugar and NDF levels seem very variable. After the cold wet spring many people cut later than originally planned but now seem pleasantly surprised by the quality of silage they have made. The importance of knowing what forages you have for the winter and how to manage them to achieve performance cannot be understated.

Dry Cows

Often the forgotten ones, with focus on end of season harvest and transitioning the milking herd onto winter rations, dry cows still at grass need to be prioritised. As with the milking herd, the dry group will be struggling to maintain sufficient dry matter intakes over recent weeks which will start to compromise body condition. The link between poor dry cow rumen fill and metabolic issues at calving is strong, paired with any nutritional imbalance at grass has the potential to cause issues at calving. Prioritising these cows at least 3 weeks before calving, providing a balanced dry cow ration and comfortable housing conditions will pay well heading into the winter.

Looking ahead over the coming weeks and months, no matter how long or short the grazing window that remains, analysing forages, discussing winter targets and balancing rations to suit is a worthy time investment. Having a plan in place for all groups of stock on the farm will certainly make for a better winter once the shed doors are closed.

Davidsons Dairy Tech consultant Michael Carruthers

Davidsons Dairy Tech consultant Michael Carruthers