Farm Update May 2023
Silage season has arrived
Just in time for silage season, the sun has come out and there is a forecast for very little rain for the next 10 days. Growth rates have being above 95 kg of DM for the last two weeks in a row so there is an opportunity to pull out a number of surplus paddocks that have gotten strong straight away. I ended up buying 100 bales of silage this spring so every extra bale that I make this year will count.
Red Clover Silage
I have baled the Red Clover Silage that I sowed last April and I was pleasantly surprised in how it yielded. This field was grazed in February and afterwards it received 3,000 gallons of slurry per acre. This was all the fertiliser that it received. I baled it myself last Saturday and I got 11 bales to the acre off it. The plan will be to get slurry back on it and hopefully it will be ready to cut again in 6 -7 week’s time. This was the heaviest crop of silage on the farm so far.
The only difference is that I don’t spread any chemical fertiliser which is saving me €50 an acre of fertiliser at today’s price but is also reducing the carbon emitted on the farm as less fertiliser needs to be brought onto the farm.
At harvesting the red clover sward is treated the same as the grass only swards, I don’t lift the mower up and if the weather permits I will ted it out for 24 hours.
I have sowed another 5 acres of a red clover mix last week. I have this burnt off four weeks ago and I was hoping to have it sown before this but the broken weather prevented me from doing so. Before sowing it got two bags of 10 -10 -20 and lime. It then gets two runs of a power harrow and is sown with a tine harrow and seed box. The sowing rate I use is 10 kg of Ryegrass, 4 kg of Red Clover and 1 KG of White Clover.
All the calves are now out fully on grass, they are receiving 1 kg of meal per day and are moved onto fresh grass every day. I will shortly be taking a dung sample to see if the worm burden is high enough in the calves to require a worm dose. Calves are doing well and more than likely the stronger calves will be pulled off meal in a months’ time for rest of the grazing season. The yearling cattle will also be dung sampled to monitor for worm count and will be dosed accordingly.
Farm Update April 2023
The Grass Situation
We went from a famine to feast here on the farm in the last couple of weeks. Up until the 8th of April we were feeding bought-in silage bales, as grass covers and ground conditions didn’t allow the yearlings to be out grazing full time. Today, the 18th of April, I am baling 7 acres of paddocks on the out farm that will get too strong if I leave it for another 10 days. On the home farm the grass cover per hectare is above 900 kg DM, I would like this to be closer to 750kg DM at this stage of the year so a few paddocks will be taken out for silage in the next couple of days to lower this. Growth rates for last Sunday was 50kgDM/day, this is well above demand at the moment. All the yearling cattle are back out along with last year’s Autumn calves.
All the paddocks have received 45 kg of chemical nitrogen per hectare. In the paddocks that received lime this was in the form of CAN and everything else would have being protected urea.
I feel the protected urea works every bit as well as CAN and it is cheaper per kg of N so I will continue to use protected urea as my main form of nitrogen fertiliser for the rest of the year.
The plan is to cut the red clover silage around the 15th of May and then cut every 6-7 weeks after this. There is a cover of 2,500 kg DM on it already, it received 3,000 gallons of slurry in February after it was grazed and it is looking very well. I will be reseeding another 10 acres of red clover silage during the first week of May.
All the calves will be fully weaned in the next couple of days. Since coming onto the farm at three weeks of age these calves have consumed 17 kg of milk replacer in total. They are now eating up on 2 kg of concentrates and will go out to grass in the next couple of weeks. The first paddocks that they will go out to is paddocks that were previously grazed of by the bigger cattle. From then on they are rotationally moved every 24 hours into 1100 covers and receive 1 kg of meal. In 2022 that kg of meal was kept with calves throughout the summer because of a shortage of grass. But if there is plentiful grass supplies in mid-summer, the stronger calves will be taken off the meal and will go back onto it in mid-September.
Farm Update March 2023
It wouldn’t be Spring in Ireland without some hiccup occurring and true to form in the last 10 days, grazing conditions have deteriorated rapidly. One Thursday morning I awoke to the ground being blanketed with four inches of snow. The following Sunday all the yearlings were rehoused and at the time of writing these cattle are still housed. However before the weather turned bad I was ahead of grazing targets with 60% of the farm grazed on the 10th of March so even with the rehousing I am not far off my grazing targets.
At this time of the year a few dry days in a row will allow me to get back to grazing the yearlings by day and rehousing them at night. Last year I redesigned my paddock system and this change really facilitates on-off grazing in difficult conditions. A well designed paddock system definitely helps improve animal performance during the grazing season but, for me, it makes handling and moving cattle at grass a dream. My next step in terms of improving grazing infrastructure on the farm will be to put a stone roadway in place and under the new TAMs this will be grant aided along with livestock fencing.
Even with all the farm getting a half bag of protected urea or two thousand gallons of slurry, growth rates were stubbornly low at 7kg DM/ha last week. The current spell of mild weather should drive grass growth on this week though. Thankfully I got to graze the red clover sward in ideal conditions and afterwards this got three thousand gallons of slurry per acre and is now closed for silage with a planned cutting date of the second week in May. Finishing animals were fed the red clover silage last winter and performance was excellent, so my aim is to make more of this silage this year.
The slurry from the weanling shed this year tested at 13 units of Nitrogen, 7 units of Phosphorous and 46 units of Potassium per thousand gallons while the slurry from the finishing shed tested at 19 units of Nitrogen, 9 units of Phosphorous and 55 units of Potassium per thousand gallons. Even though the results look high they are comparable with what other farmers in DairyBeef 500 programme are getting. For the rest of the year I will need to account for this level of nutrients in my slurry when applying chemical fertiliser. I have spread 60 tonne of lime so far this year, I am ineligible for the new lime grant but I will still apply more lime in the backend as I still believe its good value even without the grant.
Farm Update February 2023
Age at Slaughter
In the last two weeks there has being a steady trickle of calves coming onto the farm. Even though it heralds an increased workload, it is exciting to see a new future crop of beef cattle arrive on the farm. The finishing shed has nearly emptied completely with only five animals remaining and going on the fat scores of the last batch of animals that were killed these five should have went. The average age of slaughter of my steers will have dropped another month from last year which will have big savings for me financially as well as reducing the carbon emissions of my farm. I strongly believe that one of the keys to reduced slaughter age is having a calf at the end of the milk weaning stage that is healthy and is ready to thrive when he hits grass.
Buying & Feeding Calves
Annually I will purchase approximately 140 calves and I have not lost a calf in two years. But the main reason for this is that I am very fussy when purchasing calves, I will not buy a calf that is less than three weeks of age and even at that if the calf looks thin or anyway off form I will not take him. This means that the calf is over the danger period for Rotavirus and Coronavirus scour and if he does get a touch of crypto scour he is strong enough to overcome it. All calves are dosed for Coccidiosis on the trailer and are fed that evening with 3 litres of milk mixed up with 450g of milk powder. For the first three or four days on farm they get 500g of milk replacer once a day and this is reduced down to 450 g of milk replacer once a day till the calf is about 65 days old. Two days after the calf arrives on the farm he will get vaccinated for pneumonia and will get an IBR vaccine intranasal, the booster for pneumonia will be administered a month later.
I wouldn’t classify my sheds as ideal for rearing calves they are high and open and can be cold. But I don’t seem to have a problem with pneumonia or chills and I put this down to having the calves well bedded. The straw is always dry and calves can snuggle down into it during cold weather. My guide is to use a round bale of straw per 8 calves per week even though it seems an excessive amount of straw I only had to inject one calf last year.
I believe that the milk feeding stage of a calf’s diet should be to transition him onto solid food as quick as possible so that the rumen is well devolved by the time he goes to grass. Very palatable calf starter meal is introduced to calves the moment they arrive on farm. Fresh water and straw is kept in with the calves at all times. By day 65, the calves are eating upon 2 kg of meal and this is when I reduce the grams of milk replacer fed over the next five days. Even though I do not feed a huge volume of milk replacer per calf I have a calf that’s rumen is developed fully by being exposed to high levels of solid food during the milk feeding stage. These calves will then be able to utilise and thrive on the quality grass that they get in their first grazing season.
Farm Update January 2023
Even though the slurry season has opened here in Meath on the 16th of January, I have no intention of going out with slurry until the weather has warmed up a bit. I got my slurry analysed last year and the results surprised me, in the finishing sheds the slurry tested at 17 units of N, 12 units of P and 42 units of K. I wouldn’t dream of putting expensive chemical fertiliser onto frozen or waterlogged ground so the same goes for “free” cattle slurry when it contains this much nutrients.
Why waste a free dinner
I aim to apply the slurry whenever soil temperatures rise to above 5 degrees and ground condition allow. This year I will test the slurry in the weanling sheds and I am presuming that this slurry will be lower in Nitrogen than the slurry coming from the finishing cattle so if that’s the case this slurry will be ideal for the red clover ground which doesn’t require a lot of Nitrogen. I will let you know in February what the analysis of the weanling slurry was. While saving money is important, I also believe that if I am wasting nutrients by spreading in the wrong conditions, these wasted nutrients are ending up somewhere where they shouldn’t and are causing issues with our waterways or are having an impact on our air quality.
The first paddocks that will receive slurry will be anything that has a grass cover of less than 700 kg/DM per hectare. I am in a lucky position in that a lot of my farm is relatively free draining soil, so I plan to have most of the yearling cattle out by the first week in February. When ground conditions allow I will follow the cattle with 2,000 gallons of slurry per acre using the dribble bar. Any paddocks that hasn’t received slurry in February will get a half bag of protected urea.
I spread all my own slurry using a dribble bar and tanker. I find the dribble bar to be an amazing tool in terms of being able to spread slurry on higher grass covers, less dirtying of grass and better utilisation of the Nitrogen in the slurry because you can really see the difference in extra grass grown with using the dribble bar compared to the splash plate. However one word of caution is that it can be difficult to spread at 2000 gallons of slurry to the acre if your tractor isn’t big enough or it doesn’t have an autopowered gearbox to maintain the required tractor speed at low revs.
Where to spread it
Anything below index 3 for Potassium will get an extra application of cattle slurry during the year. However it’s impossible to have enough slurry, to slurry all silage ground and built up all my sub optimal paddocks, so when I run out of slurry I will have to go back to using an appropriate compound fertiliser. But until then, my aim is not too waste a drop of this “free” liquid gold
Using Red Clover in the Silage Sward
Aidan and Luke Maguire farm just over 46 hectares of good free draining land near Navan in Co Meath. They are operating a Dairy-Calf to Beef enterprise with a high stocking rate of 2.8 LU/ha on the whole farm. Aidan was Teagasc Drystock Grassland Farmer of the Year in 2021.
With the price of nitrogen rising in late 2021, Aidan began to research ways in which to reduce chemical N for 2022. He had heard about the benefits of both white and red clover in grassland swards. But he was worried about the impact of incorporating clover in the swards and reducing chemical N use on the quantity of grass the farm would grow, particularly as he is operating at a high stocking rate on the farm.
After consultation with their local Teagasc Advisor, David Argue and DairyBeef500 Programme adviser, Fergal Maguire, they decided the benefits of incorporating clover outweighed the risks. So a plan was formulated to reseed five acres of their silage ground with a red clover mix and incorporate white clover into an existing reseed through oversowing.
The red clover sward was sown on the 1st may and the mix was 12 kg of perennial rye grass and 4 kg of red clover. To date the red clover sward has performed exceptionally well, delivering 3 cuts of silage and two grazings in the Autumn. In total, it has grown over 10 tonnes DM/ha since it was sowed on the 1st of May. The only fertiliser that this red clover sward has received is 3 bags of 10-10-20 at sowing and 2,000 gallons of slurry after each cut of silage. Aidan has been so impressed with the red clover silage that he reseeded another 5 acres of silage ground with red clover in August. The average DMD of the red clover silage is 74 DMD. Aidan would normally use about a tonne of CAN along with slurry to fertilise five acres of silage annually, which is a considerable saving with the clover. Aidan firmly believes that red clover silage swards will have a massive role to play on Irish farms to reduce our dependence on chemical N, significant cost saving for the farm and reducing greenhouse gas emissions also.