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Managing Hot Weather & Wholecrop Advice


As the hot weather continues, we are all having flashbacks to 2022 – a year of record low rainfall with long range forecasts indicating that drier conditions could continue towards the end of June. Whilst the dry weather has allowed farmers to harvest silage and establish maize crops following a very wet March and April, we are now seeing grass growth decline and some maize crops begin to struggle. We thought that now might be a good time to highlight some of the lessons we learned last year:

  1. The first relates to transition cows, we saw a significant flattening of the lactation curves of July-September calving animals. Whilst these animals will catch up and surpass predicted yields later in lactation, there was a lot of lost milk in the post-calving period. To combat this, farmers should be more generous with offering straw or lower quality silage in the early dry period for any animals out grazing if grass growth continues to decline. It is also important that water access is a priority, as well as shade if temperatures increase. In certain situations, bringing animals inside and onto transition rations earlier than normal might also allow cows a longer period to adjust – but do not overcrowd dry cow buildings.

  2. It is important that leys are not over-grazed. Overgrazing during prolonged dry or drought-like conditions can not only increase the risk of soil erosion through reduced cover, but also result in plants drying out. Over-grazed grasses also put down fewer roots than well-managed leys which is a particular concern in new leys. Care should be taken to ensure that leys are not overgrazed as grass growth slows (AHDB have already reported that grass growth has slowed by nearly 60kg DM/ha in the last month, we are now 20kg DM/ha behind 2022 figures) Leaving sufficient residuals following grazing will also allow for better grass growth once the weather (hopefully) changes. Stocking rates need to be considered carefully, as well as buffer feeding.

  3. It is also important to consider how you fertilise or apply manure to any silage aftermath. We have seen quite a lot of fertilisers sat in leys following cuts of silage this year. Applying slurry to re-emerging grass can burn new leaves in hot or dry conditions, there is also the possibility of increasing nitrogen losses through volatilisation (Nitrogen converted to ammonia gas). Using a dribble bar or slurry injector can help reduce these losses as slurry is directly deposited on or below the soil. However, ideally slurry should be applied when moisture levels are sufficient.

Alongside the above lessons, it is still important to remember the fundamentals of managing livestock in hot and dry weather, especially ensuring that water is both clean and plentiful. Around yards, fans or sprinklers might be a worthwhile investment, as well as making sure that buildings are well-ventilated. The hottest place for the cows is the collecting yard, so if it is possible we suggest splitting the herd so that you have less in there at one time. We are hoping to avoid some of the challenges that we experienced in 2022. However, if weather conditions provide another challenging year, we can at least focus on the lessons learned from last drought to ensure that businesses can operate as productively as ever.

Written by Charlie Davies


Another topic that needs addressing is the harvesting of cereal crops as wholecrop to mitigate low silage stocks. This will likely be an individual farm level decision based on the condition of maize crops, silage carry over from 2022 and the cost of establishing the cereal crop. However, with maize crops already being marketed for over £900/acre, purchasing additional silage for the winter will be expensive and challenging to source. When harvesting wholecrop, there are a few targets to aim for:

  • Crops should be harvested between 30 and 45% DM.

  • Crop should just be starting to turn yellow in cover.

  • Grain should be at a “soft cheese” consistency (typically this occurs 4-6 weeks pre harvest but could be variable this year).

If you are harvesting over 35% DM, use a forager with a whole crop processor to avoid grains coming through. If you don’t have a processor available, then cut the crop when grains are still milky, yield might be slightly lower - but the cows will get more out of it! Grain development will be important to monitor in crops as, depending on soil moisture levels, crops could have lower yields than expected. The moisture level of the crop is also vital, harvesting the crop too dry (or mature) will lead to poor fermentation and a poorly digestible feed in the clamp. A late harvest will also result in over-mature grains which could be difficult for the animal to digest (despite analysing quite well). Ultimately, harvesting some cereals as wholecrop this year could help reduce the issues with low silage stocks. However, harvesting at the correct crop maturity stage is vital, as well as ensuring that cashflows are not negatively impacted by the missing grain sales.

Written by Charlie Davies

For help with assessing silage stocks or help with managing this hot, dry spell, please get in touch with the team!

Charlie Davies 07904 601104 Laura Cureton 07399 117257 Sam Kelly 07777 696080

Office 01454 614624


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