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James Skehan January/February Update 2024

Taking the opportunity to graze

Taking the opportunity to graze

  • Opening covers on farm
  • First cattle out to grass!
  • Tracking grazing progress
Winter performance

Winter performance

  • Latest weights of finishing cattle
  • Rumen fluke affected performance
  • Weanling performance
Latest results

Latest results

  • Soil sample results are back
  • Significant improvement in soil fertility since 2022
  • James’s plans for 2024


James walked his farm and completed an opening cover. The home farm in Ballynevin had an average farm cover of 273 kg DM/ha and the out farm in Kilcredan had an average farm cover of 323 kg DM/ha on 29th January.

As the weather was looking settled, James made the decision to let the weanlings out to grass in Kilcredan on 1st February. The 2023 weanlings (10 heifers and 15 bullocks) were given little silage the previous night. They were then transported to the out farm and given the opportunity to run around a secure yard for 1 hour to help settle down. James then let them out to grass and although one wire was broken, they settled down soon after and began grazing. This is saving James 1 bale of silage and 46kg of ration per day, plus he expects that the cattle will gain up to 1kg/day at grass, ahead of the target 0.6kg/head/day indoors.

Weanlings out at grass

Figure 1: Weanlings were turned out to grass on 1st February

Other benefits include;

  • - Grazing off winter covers
  • - Maximising grass growth
  • - ‘Waking the grass up’ and encourage it to start growing
  • - Producing good quality grass for the second rotation
  • - Reducing labour from feeding

James’s target is to graze 30% of the arm by 1st March, 60% by the end of March and to start the second rotation on 12th April when 100% of the farm will be grazed. He can track this through the spring rotation plan on PastureBase by entering the grazing dates of each paddock.

He will apply 20 units of protected urea/acre to the ryegrass fields that are dry, over 6oC soil temperature for 3 days and that have been grazed whenever the weather conditions are suitable.


The 2022 heifers were weighed on 16th January (7). They averaged 483kg and gained 0.82kg/day since 9th December. The home bred finishing heifers (3) averaged 549kg. They are expected to be finished in the next 6 weeks at approximately 600kg live weight.

Finishing heifers

Figure 2: Finishing heifers

The finishing bullocks (5) averaged 539kg live weight and gained 1.02kg/day since 9th December. They are expected to achieve a live weight of over 620 kg and are expected to be finished in the next 7 weeks.

The weights from both groups show that rumen fluke was impacting on their performance and they only gained 0.03 to 0.69kg/day between 9th December and 16th January. It is expected that the dose to treat them for rumen fluke will have helped them to recover and they will now be pushed up to 7kg ration/head/day to ensure that they continue to perform well. Their silage has also been changed from lower DMD second cut silage to >71.72% DMD first cut.

The 2023 weanlings were also weighed on 16th January. The 7 heifers gained 0.75kg/day since 16th January and averaged 293kg. The 15 2023 bullocks gained 0.84kg/day and averaged 343kg.

Soil Fertility

Soil samples were taken on the farm in November 2023 and the results show a big increase in soil fertility on the farm. The percentage of land where the soil pH is over 6.2 and the P and K indexes are 3 or 4 has jumped from 11% to 40%.

The soil pH has risen significantly with 75% of the farm with a pH above 6.2. This was only at 50% when the previous samples were taken. James has spread 68t lime in May-Sept 2022 and 19t on silage ground in May 2023. A further 90t lime is required, but it is great to see that it is making a difference on the farm.

The phosphorus index has increased from only 14% at index 3 or higher, to 53% now at the same level. The lime will have released phosphorus that was locked up in the soil, but James also spreads 18-6-12 on the land which is working well to replace offtakes from grazing, but also to help build the indexes.

The potassium (K) percentages have also increased with 95% of the farm at index 3 or higher, versus 62% in 2022. James has spread 18-6-12 which has helped, but also focused on spreading muriate of potash which has rapidly help to increase K levels on the farm.

Soil fertility

Figure 3: November 2023 soil sample results

Soil Fertility 2021/2022

Figure 4: February 2022 soil sample results

The priority on the farm will be to spread the 90t of lime required over the next 2 years on the farm to increase the soil pH to >6.2. James will follow recommendations to continue improving soil fertility on the farm which is very simply;

  • - Spread slurry on silage ground to replace offtakes
  • - Spread 1.5 to 2 bags of 18-6-12 on specific paddocks at specified times of year to get the best response to the nitrogen and phosphorus
  • - Muriate of potash (50% K) can be spread on lower K index fields
  • - Protected urea with sulphur can be spread on grazing ground as required, and also onto grass silage ground to balance with the slurry
  • - The red clover silage ground needs to be prioritised for slurry and super P to feed the silage crops grown and maintain soil fertility.