Current Farm Update
Farm Update November 2022
I hosted a farm walk 3 weeks ago with Teagasc and Dairygold. The walk highlighted some of the things I am doing to be more environmentally sustainable while at the same time remaining profitable. Because that’s what the Signpost programme is all about, showing that Signpost farmers like myself can make a good living from farming while at the same time looking after the environment.
One of the things highlighted on the day of the walk was the grass grown. The farm grew 12tonnes grass/ha to date in 2022. Up to the same time last year the farm grew 11.4 – so I am actually ahead this year. Even though I did feel the pinch of the drought as I have said in many of the previous articles but I also carried an extra 9 dairy cows that did put pressure on the milking block this dry year.
The fact that I had soil sampled the farm and I had a good phosphorus allowance, which I spread throughout the year helped grow the grass for me. I used 18:6:12, which helped improve the soil fertility for clover establishment and persistence. By soil sampling I know what nutrients to apply so I can grow more grass, and it worked especially during a dry year and with 7% more cows on the milking block.
I have clover sown on the farm but chemical nitrogen didn’t drop much – from 228kg in 2021 to 222kg in 2022 as I was afraid of the dry weather. I will be more proactive in dropping N in 2023. This will be one of my main focuses for the year ahead.
We had a demonstration on managing a new hedgerow also on the day of the walk. I had put in a new hedge of 300 feet last January / February and was glad of the opportunity to learn a little more about how best to manage it so that it turns out well. It is made up of hazel, rowen, holly and whitethorn. If I don’t manage this hedgerow it will become an ‘escaped’ hedgerow with mature trees, but I want a ‘topped’ hedgerow with a thick base which will be stock proof. As part of the Signpost Programme, I have a target for my farm to achieve 10% biodiversity on the farm.
Managing a New Hedge
Teagasc Countryside Management environmental specialist Catherine Keena was on hand to show us all how to manage a new hedge. Firstly Catherine identified a whitethorn sapling that I will let grow into a tree to provide fruit and flowers for birds. Catherine put a tree guard on this sapling so the hedge cutter next year won’t chop it down. I’ll have to talk the hedge cutter through this to make sure these saplings are not cut when the hedge establishes.
Catherine pruned all the other samplings to an inch or so above the ground because this is the point where we want the hedge to thicken. So instead of having one stem, I will have 5 stems at a low base and this will allow the hedge to thicken as it grows. A roll of compostable film was rolled over the cut stumps and punched through. It’s a very simple way of applying the film. The film is really important to control the weeds around the base of the hedging which can compete with the saplings but also to conserve moisture and nutrients.
To keep the film in place, the sides are pinched into the ground with the spade and stones placed on top to stop the wind from blowing it away. To manage the hedge for the next few years, every 12 months, the saplings will be cut down to an inch above the cutting from the previous year. This will allow the hedge to thicken.
It has been really useful to get this demonstration of managing a new hedge with Catherine.
Feed, Feed, Feed !
This has been a difficult grass year for us on the farm, right from the beginning of the year but you will have those years. Right now we are feeding 5 kg of ration and 2 kg of silage. We are in a drought situation, although not a brown drought, despite the fact that the farm is a high farm and a heavy farm. Even back in 2018 when there was severe drought, we didn’t need to feed silage on the farm. This is the worst drought I remember ever having on this farm. It’s probably made a little worse because its late summer and I am trying to build grass at the same time which is impossible. I have an average farm cover of 461 kg DM when it should be closer to 800-900 kg DM for this farm. The cover per cow is 150 kg DM and this should be closer to 250 kg DM / cow to help build grass for the Autumn. The advice is to feed, feed, feed. Even after rain, it’s still going to take 2-3 weeks for the farm to recover and if I don’t feed, covers will be run down altogether. Right now I am thinking we will struggle to build grass this Autumn and we will be housing perhaps 2 weeks earlier than normal, all going well that is.
I would think I am ok for silage for the winter but I will do the fodder budget before the next article and make sure that I have enough. I would always try to build a reserve into the system anyway to cover for situations like this.
Liming will be my focus for the next short while. I have worked hard on a liming plan for the farm over the last few years and would apply approximately 100tonnes every Autumn. Looking at my nutrient management plan this morning with my adviser, I have a requirement for 101 tonnes of lime for the whole farm, which is spot on. Looking at the maps, the worst paddock is down at 5.7 pH and I will have 8 paddocks to apply lime to. Because of the focus on liming on the farm, 81% of the farm is at optimum pH. This has given me the confidence to cut back on chemical N because there is more N released in soils at the right pH. It’s something we have to be conscious of that if we apply lime to save on N, then we really do need to cut back the N. Otherwise it won’t be accounted for in the emissions reduction calculation. I know in 2021 liming went up a lot but so too did spreading chemical fertiliser when it should be going the opposite way with the extra lime applied.
Good News !
Some good news on the farm, the assistant manager, Patrick Rohan, is getting married in early September to Noreen Brosnan in Millstreet. Patrick is an important part of the team on the farm. We went on the stag recently to give him a good send off !
Farm Update June 2022
Cows are milking well at 27 litres, 4.14% fat and 3.59% protein.
Breeding season is going well. I have a submission rate of 88% which I am very happy with. I would put this down to cows in good condition, we watch the cows very closely and our calving pattern is very good which helps. The calving interval is 369 days and 6 week calving rate is 80%. The vet came in after 25 days to check the cows not showing heats. There were 10 cows not showing heats. There was a cidr used on 5 of them and fixed time AI in 10 days time and Lutalyse was used on the others.
I will be pulling out the bull a lot earlier this year. The calving period had stretched to 14 weeks and I want to pull that back to 12 weeks. The 14 weeks is just too long. It creates a lot of extra work. I will pull out the bull at the end of June for the heifers and mid July for the cows. Removing the bull in mid July will mean I won’t have any cows calving after 25th April.
Grass situation is good, despite a difficult start to the year. The average farm cover is 642 kg DM / ha with a cover per cow of 155 kg DM. Growth is 65 kg DM and demand is 64 kg DM so the grass wedge is looking good. I am grazing covers of 1400-1600 kg DM. I am doing some pre-mowing. I will do it as the opportunity arises. I take the attitude though that if it’s not fit for grazing it’s not fit for pre-mowing and I will bale it up. I like pre-mowing because I feel I get better cleanouts, better ulitsation and I think its better than topping. It needs good weather though so I will be selective about when I use it. It isn’t a way to feed strong grass.
I will be oversowing clover on 5 acres on Saturday using the Moore Drill. Apparently seed is scarce so I haven’t decided on a variety yet but I will be putting it in at 2.5 kg / acre.
The reseed is coming on well. The clover is starting to appear. My problem right now is that I cant get a clover safe post emergence spray. Hopefully it will be available very shortly. Weeds are starting to come and I’ll be keeping an eye on it and watch for the opportunity to spray, I don’t want weeds getting too strong . I use the rule of thumb of when weeds are the size of a €2 coin.
I have applied 18 6 12 + 3% Sulphur on all grazing ground and the fields that are low for P & K will get another round. I am using the colour soil sample maps from NMP which highlight the fields that are low in P & K. It makes it easier to target the right parts of the farm for extra P & K. After that I will be using protected urea + sulphur at 20 units per acre, with less on the clover fields. There is no point putting in clover if I am not going to cut back the N.
I’ll be getting ready to cut the silage shortly. I have 67 acres of 1st cut to mow. It’s a heavy crop but the digestibility should be good in it. I have a fodder budget done and will be on target to have enough silage for next winter.
Farm Update May 2022
Cows are milking well. They are doing 29 litres of milk with 4.02% fat and 3.52% protein. The grass situation is tight, as it has been all Spring. I am still feeding 6kg of meals and I’m offering about 1-2kg silage to cows since Easter weekend. I am walking the farm weekly and keeping a close eye on it. My grass cover/cow is 143kg/cow and last weeks growth was 41kg and demand is 44kg so I am short. The nights are still very cold which is not helping growth on what is considered a cold farm. Many farms are in the same boat. It’s a waiting game now. All the silage ground is closed and I didn’t skimp on the fertiliser. I don’t want to be in a position next winter of being short of silage and having to feed expensive meals.
A.I. and Sexed Semen
I will be using fixed time AI on 1/3 of the heifers, they will be synchronised and sexed semen used on them. The heifers are on an outside block of ground so it would be difficult to know when they are coming on heat which is important to know when using sexed semen. So by using fixed time AI on them I’m taking the guessing out of it. I mentioned in a previous update that I was concerned I am not getting enough heifers born on the farm so I am giving the sexed semen a go this year. I had the discussion group on the farm a few weeks back and they suggested that I synchronise all of the heifers and I can get their point but I would be concerned about the heifers all calving at the one time and the pressure that would put on labour and training heifers in the parlour all at once. I will use AA bull with the rest of the heifers not being AI’d. Cows were tail painted last Thursday and AI started on Friday. Sexed semen will also be used on some of the cows.
I have spread little over a bag of 18-6-12 after grazings. Any paddocks reseeded last year and at least 20% clover will get little or no nitrogen over the summer. There is no point in putting in the clover if I am not going to let it do its job by cutting back the chemical N. I’ll spread some dirty water on these clover fields during the year to keep the P and K’s up.
I am reseeding 1 paddock. The mix is Abergain, Aberchoice and Ballyvoy with 1.5 kg of white clover included. I haven’t done any oversowing yet but it is being planned.