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James Skehan May/June Update 2023

Overcoming weather challenges

Overcoming weather challenges

  • Managing grass in bad weather
  • Silage yields for first cut silage
  • Updating fodder budget
Heifers are taking priority for AI

Heifers are taking priority for AI

  • Breeding season started 26th April
  • Heifers were scanned pre-breeding
  • Synchronisation programme for heifers
Red clover establishment

Red clover establishment

  • Silage field reseeded
  • Red clover/PRG mix chosen as soil pH and P&K indexes are good
  • Sowed and rolled 20th-22nd May


Poor weather in April and early May created challenging conditions for James Skehan in Ballynevin, Co. Clare.  “The farm is heavy in nature and the volume of rain that fell led to tough grazing conditions – graze outs were poor and there was always a risk of poaching. 

To minimise the risk of damage;

  1. I kept 2 main grazing groups (25 cows and calves in one group, 26 yearlings and 4 stores in another) so that they could move through paddocks quicker (within 2-3 days) than if they were in smaller bunches.
  2. I didn’t hold up the cattle, if they were marking I moved them on as I knew I could graze it out the next time.
  3. I grazed paddocks with lower covers first, less than 1600 kg DM/ha to achieve better graze outs.
  4. I spread a chemical fertiliser instead of slurry on the silage field as there was much grass to spread slurry, even with a dribble bar.
  5. When the conditions improved I made the cattle skin out the paddocks to 4cm.

Despite the weather, grass growth matched the stock demand, I had 1.5 bags of 18-6-12/acre spread for this rotation. I could close silage ground on time and the first cut is now finished, the red clover/PRG has been sown and breeding appears to be going well. In years like this you have to take windows of opportunity between the wet weather when they arise, and to also remember that all the work gets done eventually!

Silage was cut on three paddocks around the yard on 23rd May. This yielded 5680 kg DM/ha, or just over 9 bales/acre (110 total). Two of these were historically traditional hay meadows as part of the GLAS scheme which weren’t cut until after 1st July. However the feed quality was always poor due to the longer growing season, so James is hoping that these bales will be >70% DMD this year.

The main silage field in Clonboy was cut for silage on 13th May and yielded 3265 kg DM/ha or just over 5 bales/acre (33 in total). This was not grazed in spring and James planned to reseed the field with a red clover/perennial ryegrass mix so it was important to get it cut early.

According to his fodder budget, James needs to have 400 bales of silage for a 5 month winter this year. That will be needed to feed 22 cows, 22 weanlings, 1 stock bull and 26 store cattle. He already had 119 bales of silage left over from last year, and now has 143 bales made this year from silage fields. That leaves him with only 138 bales to make for second cut. Four strong paddocks are already closed again for silage and James will let them grow on for a few weeks before cutting as the grass growth is ahead of demand on the farm. The reseeded red clover paddock is expected to be cut twice, albeit with a lower expected yield of 7 bales/acre in total for this year. James also expects that he will have more surplus paddocks to take out over the summer.

As silage is expensive to make, James has taken the decision to cut back on his fertiliser applications for the second cut. The strong paddocks were given 3,000 gallons of slurry/acre to replace the P and K offtakes, but James will not be spreading any nitrogen on it to top up. He will also be skipping a round of fertiliser on the grazing ground to cut costs and to take advantage of good grass growing conditions. This year he is noticing that re-growths in paddocks are quicker than previous years, which is helped by lime that was spread last year to help correct the soil pH.


James is just over 4 weeks into the breeding season now, which started on 26th April when his Limousin bull was turned out with the 19 cows. Three cows have been selected for culling due to age and poor feet so they are not running with the bull.

Two home-bred heifers were selected for breeding this year, and James had bought 4 maiden heifers to join them. His vet carried out a pre-breeding scan on them and found that one of the home bred heifers is unsuitable for breeding which leaves him with 5 heifers. They were synchronised on 28th April and were fixed time artificially inseminated on 6th May. This suited James as it avoided spending a lot of time observing heats and reduced the risk of missing one, particularly when he is working off farm. They were all bred to a maternal easy calving Saler bull, SA4604, in the hope of breeding milky and docile replacement heifers that will be 5 stars on the replacement index.

  • Friday 28th (Day 0): Heifers scanned, PRIDs inserted & 2.5ml Receptal
  • Wednesday 03 May (Day 5): 2ml Dalmaprost
  • Thursday 04 May (Day 6): PRIDS removed & 2ml Dalmaprost
  • Saturday 06 May (Day 7): Insemination with Knottown Roy (SA4604) & 2.5ml Receptal

Breeding dates are being recorded for the cows as James observes them being bred by the stock bull. So far he is happy that the cows are cycling well and the number of repeats appears to be low, despite the cold and wet weather earlier in the season.


James was keen to try out a red clover/perennial ryegrass mix in his silage field this year. The field has a soil pH of 6.8, is in index3 for phosphorus and index 2 for potassium. James is keen to rise the potassium indexes and he spread dung on the field last year, and will be spreading a compound like 0-7-30 going forward. The field itself is an out block to the farm which is typically cut for silage, but is not set up in paddocks for grazing. It had a lot of RVP type grass which tended to head out very quickly. This was problematic if weather conditions did not suit for cutting it and James was disappointed with the silage quality last year. Chickweed, docks and other weeds had also become established in the field.

A silage crop was growing in the field which was sprayed off on 2nd May. It was then cut on 13th May and was disc harrowed on 17th May. James was keen to source a red clover variety form the UK recommended list and found one that had 2.38 kg of Amos which he was delighted with. It also contained 2.52kg of a second variety of red clover which was not on the recommended list, Garant, along with 7.7 kg of 4 perennial ryegrass varieties and 1.4kg of Bianca white clover.

Field being disc harrowed

Figure 1: Reseeded field being disc harrowed

James planned to sow this at 14-16kg per acre, but unfortunately there was a calibration issue with a power harrow and air seeder and it averaged at 21.5kg/acre. This mix was sown on 20th May and 1.5 bags of a second mix was sown on 22nd May. The field was rolled afterwards and James expects that seedlings will start to appear within 2 weeks. Despite the extra seed used, James is delighted to have it sowed and he will be paid approximately €750 towards it from the Red Clover Silage Measure this year.

Field being reseeded with power harrow and air seeder

Figure 2: Field being reseeded with a power harrow and air seeder