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March Issues: Watch Cash Flow and Grazing Progress

18 March 2014

As farmers are thinking about turning out, cash flow requires special considerations during a time of smaller milk cheques and rising fertiliser bills

While March is a very busy time on dairy farms, it is important to continue to monitor your cash flow. There can be a lot of bills in the first quarter of the year, at a time when the milk cheques are small.

What can you do in the coming months to improve cash flow?

The two biggest costs on Profit Monitors analysed to date for 2013 were feed (6.4cpl) and fertiliser (2.9cpl); between them, these two costs accounted for almost 40 per cent of total costs.

Thus, it makes sense to concentrate on these. Consider your farm stocking rate – both on the milking platform and overall. Overstocked farms will have higher costs, but may not have higher profits.

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Fertiliser is one of the two biggest costs on dairy farms – controlling the cost of fertiliser will help you manage cash flow

Match cow numbers to available milk quota for this, the last quota year. While it is tempting to milk more cows, it may be better to carry extra bulling heifers and/or female calves and you will be ready for 2015/2016 with extra cash.

Manage your herd to optimise milk solids production. Spread nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) fertiliser according to your farm’s requirements.

Aim to minimise meal feeding by maximising the quantity of grass included in the cows’ diet – use the Spring Rotation Planner.

Your ambition must be to maximise the expected surplus cash flow at the end of the year. If you want to change the amount of surplus cash generated by your farm, you need to do something about it – that means doing something different. Don’t wait until later in the year to start.

Late Calving Cows

The most efficient farms will have over 75 per cent of the herd calved by March 20, but the national average figure is 58 per cent . This equates to a lot of late calving cows on farm. A big management issue with these animals is excess body condition due to a long dry period - very evident where cows were dried off early last winter. The risk here of difficult calving, milk fever, etc., is high. Restrict access to quality silage until one week before calving and feed extra magnesium (10g CalMag per cow), in addition to standard dry cow mineral.

How is the First Grazing Round Progressing? 

The problem of hitting spring rotation targets (1/3 area grazed by March 1, and 2/3 by March 17) in difficult weather conditions has hit again this spring. However, it is important to review progress to date with these targets in mind. For example, on a 45ha grazing block, you should have 30ha grazed off by March 17.

Graze some lighter covers, practice on-off grazing and reduce silage in the daily diet if behind target. On the other hand, it is also important not to run ahead of target too early. If more than 75 per cent has been grazed by March 20, budget the remaining area to last until early April and introduce feed to balance herd requirements.

Spring Grazing Plan

Curtins Farm, Teagasc, Moorepark

The overall farm-stocking rate for this spring grazing plan is 2.9cows/ha. February has been a very difficult month in terms of grazing management. Currently, the farm is running about four grazing days behind schedule. However, it is anticipated that 25 per cent of the farm will have been grazed by March 1 (30 per cent of the farm was targeted to be grazed by March 1).

Currently, cows are out grazing by day and night (weather allowing) and receiving 4kg of concentrates/cow/day. About 75 per cent of the herd will be calved by March 1. The next target is to have 65 per cent of the farm grazed by St. Patrick’s Day. The remaining part of the farm will be grazed out by early April.

About 33 per cent of the farm was covered with 3,000 gallons of slurry per acre in early February. This was spread on the area with lowest amount of grass (< 700kg DM/ha) and the remainder of the farm received 23 units of N/acre (urea). The plan now is to have a total of 70 units of N/acre applied by March 17.

This will be achieved through a combination of slurry and nitrogen fertiliser. About 3,000gals/ac of watery slurry will be applied after cows are finished grazing. For those interested in pasture cover measurements, the average farm cover was 890kg DM/ha on January 6.

The plan was to have about 750kg DM/ha around this date. The build-up of grass in autumn did not go according to plan, due to poor grass growth in September. As a result, the supply of grass available for grazing in October and November was lower than target.

This resulted in cows being housed earlier in November. However, grass supply on the farm now is higher as a consequence. The target average farm cover for the farm on April 7 is 550kgDM/ha.

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