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Farm Update October 2023

Shay Ryan is farming outside New Ross in Co. Wexford. Shay farms 97 Ha. The milking platform is 56Ha. There is also a small beef enterprise on the farm. Shay is currently milking an average of 180 cows & has 45 replacement heifers. The EBI of the herd is €213 & the young stock have an EBI of €261 and €271. In 2022 he supplied 468kg MS/cow & the plan is to raise this to 500Kg.The soil fertility on the milking platform has been improved to Index 3 and 4 for P and K and the farm grew 15.7 tonnes of grass DM/Ha in 2022. Shay aims to reseed 10% of the milking platform every year. This year he went with the PPI grass Nashota and 1.5kgs white clover seed.

Paddocks

It’s hard to imagine we’ve started to grow our spring grass now. We started to close paddocks on 10th October. First paddocks closed were furthest away paddocks as this was handiest. They are dry and have ok access for grazing. These are the paddocks that will be grazed from 10th March so they will have plenty of time to build cover on them (Teagasc research showed that every week delay in closing reduces spring grass supply by 100kg DM/ha). The aim is that these paddocks will have a cover of around 1200 kg DM/ha on them when being grazed in spring. At that stage there will be a good mob of cows calved and adjusted to grazing so they will be able to deal with the level of cover.  The second lot of paddocks to be closed will be dry paddocks near the yard for the first cows to be turned out.  We are lucky as our land is very dry so have a good amount to choose from and have worked to ensure we have plenty of access to these. These will be grazed first and the cover needs to be lighter (800-1200 kg DM/ha) to give the cows a chance to get accustomed to grass in the diet again and get a good graze out. It also helps to get through a larger percentage of paddocks grazed off earlier which will give paddocks time to recover and ensure there is enough grass back for the second round of grazing.  Among the last to be closed will be anything with clover – we are leaving them to last to give the clover a chance over the winter.  Clover did really well this year. Even paddocks not noted for clover had a big increase. We don’t exactly know why, maybe the drought period in May/June meant that we didn’t get the peak growths until later this year and the clover had being given a chance to get strong enough to compete with the grass. Also, in the last few years we are being more strategic with use of P&K fertiliser and slurry which will have contributed as clover needs good P and K and pH levels.

Spring Grass

I know from talking to other farmers and from discussion groups a lot of farmers aren’t thinking of spring grass now and will say they just will keep grazing until all the grass is gone and then house the cows.  However for a spring calving herd grass in spring is worth more to us than grass in autumn (maybe €1/cow/day?) so for us the grass year starts now. Weather permitting we are trying to graze down to a residual of 4 cm now. This will stimulate growth throughout the winter and avoid the carryover of dead material.  The strip wire is used for heavy covers and when conditions are very wet. The target is to have 65% closed by November 1st – this won’t be a problem this year as we found it hard to build up cover this autumn and cows are flying through grass with the lower dry matters. 

PastureBase

Someone once said to me to ‘look at the grass not the litres in the bulk tank’. It’s what is in front and behind them in the paddock that will sort the milk in the tank.  We are measuring grass for nearly a decade now and are using Pasturebase for around five years. I have the app on my phone and it’s a super job as it’s so easy to use. I use in the field when doing a grass measure and even when I’m bringing in cows I can enter the date they came out the paddock.  More recently I’ve started to use it to track fertiliser and slurry applications. Pasturebase had some great reports which show how each paddock is performing, how many grazings or silage cuts was taken off each paddock during the year, growth during different seasons etc. They say knowledge is power. Grass measuring gives me the knowledge – it’s up to me to use it!


 

Farm Update September 2023

Autumn Planning

Shay Ryan is farming outside New Ross in Co. Wexford. Shay farms 97 Ha. The milking platform is 56Ha. There is also a small beef enterprise on the farm. Shay is currently milking an average of 180 cows & has 45 replacement heifers. The EBI of the herd is €213 & the young stock have an EBI of €261 and €271. In 2022 he supplied 468kg MS/cow & the plan is to raise this to 500Kg.The soil fertility on the milking platform has been improved to Index 3 and 4 for P and K and the farm grew 15.7 tonnes of grass DM/Ha in 2022. Shay aims to reseed 10% of the milking platform every year. This year he went with the PPI grass Nashota and 1.5kgs white clover seed.

I keep on saying “next year is going to be better” and believe it. You need to keep on driving yourself to improve and planning is part of this. John F. Kennedy is quoted with saying “the time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining” so a bit of planning now might make things easier in 2024. 

Nitrates Derogation

One of the things driving the planning at the moment is the recent changes to nitrates derogation.  Currently we are farming at a stocking rate of greater than 220 kg N per ha so will need to reduce stock for 2024 as we don’t plan to take on any extra land.  We’ve looked at the options with our Teagasc advisors and for us it will mean selling cull cows earlier and reducing the amount of cattle kept. To be honest fattening culls and cattle are like a savings account for us. These are the least profitable stock on the farm but sale of stock helps with cashflow at times of the year when the milk cheque is small.   It’s the same for many farms I know and for us a reduction in some of this stock should help us keep within the derogation limits next year.

What Cows to Cull ?

What cows to cull? Aside from cows scanned empty, the plan is also to tidy up the herd by culling any cows with persistent mastitis, any cow ever lame, ones I am not happy with in parlour. A lot of older cows mainly.  We like to give the benefit of the doubt to poor performing heifers by giving them the opportunity to mature.  For some it takes an extra lactation or two to really show what they are capable of.   Traditionally we fatten the cull cows. This year they will be sold out of the parlour as we are trying to get out of the habit of keeping the cull cows. Waiting until January might not be a good idea as depending on prices in mart or factory we might be tempted to keep them a few months extra and that would have a knock on effect on 2024 nitrates figure.  The balance between fattening culls and selling them straight from the parlour will vary between farms depending on stocking rate, space in sheds, feed supply (grass and silage), cost of meal, slurry storage capacity etc..

Winter Feed

We have plenty of surplus winter feed and good growth rates are good but we want to be coming out of next winter with a full pit of silage. We didn’t have that reserve at the start of 2023 I was nervous for the summer, particularly with the lighter first cut of silage and a drought.  Droughts are to be expected and we need to have that insurance feed available. Silage in the pit is like money in the bank… in fact better, as money in the bank isn’t much good to us when there is a drought and all the neighbours are competing for the same supply of feed.  Where we are based in Wexford there is a good supply of maize so it is a no brainer for us to buy in some as an insurance policy.  With the cost of fertiliser, plastic etc. grass silage has gotten a lot more expensive in recent years making the difference between grass and maize silage marginal in our opinion. We are also in the fortunate position of having a spare pit to put the maize into. We have enough good bales for supplementing the milking cows in January and February so the maize is fed at the back end of the year or during periods of drought.   

Paddocks & Hedging

We are also getting paddocks sorted for next year by putting extra gaps in them now, so we won’t be running around fencing in January. One or 2 fields need a few extra gaps to help give better access to them. Hedges will be cut in the next month – side trimming mainly and leaving a mature tree grow up every 300 m or so.  We have ordered some plants to sow some hedging to make an effort to improve biodiversity on the farm.


 

Farm Update June 2023

Shay Ryan is farming outside New Ross in Co. Wexford. Shay farms 97 Ha. The milking platform is 56Ha. There is also a small beef enterprise on the farm. Shay is currently milking an average of 180 cows & has 45 replacement heifers. The EBI of the herd is €213 & the young stock have an EBI of €261 and €271. In 2022 he supplied 468kg MS/cow & the plan is to raise this to 500kg.The soil fertility on the milking platform has been improved to Index 3 and 4 for P and K and the farm grew 15.7 tonnes of grass DM/ha in 2022. Shay aims to reseed 10% of the milking platform every year. This year he went with the PPI grass Nashota and 1.5kg white clover seed.

Time to Prioritise Worklife Balance

Do as little as you can when you have the chance to do it. That’s my motto for the Summer. It’s a quieter time on the farm at last. My attention has turned to getting fit again – I’ve been for my annual medical check-up. I make a point every year to be fit at one point in the year.  By fit I mean both physically and mentally – if you are physically fit it’s also easier to be mentally fit. Personally when I’m not able to go to gym or get some exercise I’m like a crashed car. There is a common perception that farming is a healthy occupation.

Unfortunately farmers have higher incidence of heart diseases and are at higher risk due to their work environment than other workers.   

While I do lots of physical work on the farm it is not the same as a proper exercise programme – in Spring I’m active but not fit.  Mentally you need the time away from the farm when exercising too – be that at the GAA pitch, the gym, swimming pool or even going for a walk.  At the gym I meet people who have a totally different set of problems than I do which I find is good to help take my mind off the farm for a while.  As farmers we don’t travel to our jobs and it’s often hard to disconnect from work. In an ideal world you wouldn’t want all your friends’ to be farmers !

Family First

I am trying to spend more time with my family at the moment – with two small boys most of the child rearing falls to my wife Catriona. With farming a bit quieter I get the chance to spend more time with them.  I have a relief milker some evenings and try to get finished early to spend time with them or do something off the farm. I like to make the most of the long evenings (particularly the sunny ones). Even getting off the farm for a few hours a day is a big help.  This can be easier said than done sometimes as it’s easy to find another job to do. 

Planning the Workload

Each week I plan two or three main jobs to do. This is the time of year when a lot of the maintenance jobs get done. Planning out these jobs in advance is important to get them done but also ensures they are done safely. Research has shown that work organisation can lead to better time efficiency and reduced accidents on farms.  It’s an ongoing process and we are trying to make the farmyard safer and more efficient all the time. If that means hiring in someone to do a job that’s the way it should be. I learned that lesson with the milking parlour upgrade this Spring as it put me under a lot of pressure.  For many jobs on a farm, unless you are well trained and you can do the job as quickly you are better of getting someone in. Summer on dairy farm allows you some flexibility.  Work still has to be done, but if it’s a fine day and it isn’t urgent maybe some jobs shouldn’t be done that particular day.


 

Farm Update May 2023

Shay Ryan is milking 180 cows near New Ross with his wife Catriona, his father and uncle. The farm is part of the Teagasc/Tirlán Signpost Programme. Advisors Kay O’Connell and Sandra Hayes.

May Balancing Act

It’s a busy time trying to balance the workload on a dairy farm in May. Calves to rear, cows to get in calf, reseeding, silage to make, not to mention grazing management.

Calves

Calves are the biggest workload at the moment. We keep around 100 of the 180 calves born on the farm.  The Friesian bull calves are sold and the Aberdeen Angus and Belgian Blues are kept until they are 14 or 15 months old. This year we had a bit of trouble with calves getting a touch of pneumonia and the result is they didn’t thrive. Some had to be injected and we also gave them a multi-vitamin dose. Housing is ok but stocking rate in the houses was a bit high so that didn’t help. We applied for the National Dairy Beef Welfare Scheme. We weigh calves regularly anyway. It gives you an indication of how well you are managing your calves for the year.  Smaller calves are grouped separately and are left at grass for longer at back end of the year. Half the calves were turned out to grass in early May. They have done very well since turnout despite the variable weather we’ve had. At turnout they get a vaccine for coccidiosis. All calves get meal at turnout and for most of the summer (depending on grass supply).

Grass

May is the month where you win the battle with grass quantity and quality. We try to walk the milking platform once or twice a week to keep on top of grass quality. Our target pre-grazing yield is 1400 kg DM/ha for as many grazing’s as we can in the week.  To do this we had to drop down to  110 kg DM/cow at the start of May which seems very low but we were confident with growth rates that we wouldn’t run tight and it was key to keeping leafy swards ahead of the cows. Fifteen acres of silage was cut in early May. It was land that hadn’t been grazed and it yielded 8 bales to acre.  As I write this, the main cut of silage is targeted for 20th May – all pit silage. I’m aim maximise amount of first silage you can without putting pressure on milking platform.

Multi-Species Sward

We are planning to sow ten acres of Multi-Species Sward shortly.  

We have applied for the DAFM Multi Species Sward measure which should cover the cost of the seeds.  It will help us reduce reliance on nitrogen fertilisers and promote a more sustainable method of farming.  

We sowed a 3 acre paddock in 2021 and found it grows the same amount as ryegrass swards with much less fertiliser, not much work and we don’t see any difference on cow milk production. In May when herbage is lush because it has lower dry matter cows have to eat more to get their fill and can be a little uneasy on a very wet day.  The field will have weeds but we’ve learned to live with them.  

Reseed

This year’s reseed is just beginning to appear. We went with 1.5 kg/acre white clover plus Nashota (a late heading tetraploid) which is ranked no. 6 on the Pasture Profit Index. We be doing the 6 week post emergence spray which is key for dock control. The seedling dock needs to be at the €2 coin stage and the clover must have three leaves on it to get a good kill and protect the clover.  The sprays are programmed to work at specific growth stages of the plant.  No point spending all the money on the reseed to end up losing the clover and a field of docks!

Breeding

Breeding going well and heats are showing strongly which is great.  Had 90% submitted in 22 days so well on target.  Some of the later calved cows and older cows have been put on once a day milking - mainly cows targeted for culling plus a few that will be served but need a bit of condition.  It’s a great help to build condition and is easy to do.


 

Farm Update April 2023

Breeding

Calving is done, breeding starting on 25th April and now those April showers are making for a very busy few weeks with the rate grass is growing.  We started the second rotation around 1st April. Managed to keep cows out full time.  We are lucky with our free draining soil type.  Some would say some paddocks were damaged but I am happy and they look better every day. The first paddock grazed on 2nd rotation has a cover of 720 kg DM/ha after two weeks so grass is really growing – that’s over 50 kg/ha/day even with weather we have had. With that growth obviously the plant wasn’t damaged.  I have to start grass measuring more frequently – had been once a fortnight but now into April I’m doing weekly measures and as its growing rapidly I’ll walk twice a week. Otherwise things will get out of control very quickly.

Fertiliser

All grazing ground got two bags per acre of 18:6:12 with sulphur early in the month.  We have spread 55 units/acre to date. I would rather to have it out earlier than this but given the weather am happy enough as there was too much risk of losses. Going to start following cows with fertiliser towards the end of the month.  If I can get some slurry out I will too.  Slurry is as great way to repair damaged ground as it gives P&K which is good for roots to repair.

Grazing

I ended up starting the second round before finishing the first round. Some paddocks are closed for an early silage cut. They have received 21 units protected urea and 2 bags of 18.6.12., and are getting a top up of 23 units with the aim of an early May cut.   For the main silage ground with the way the weather went in March and early April I’m behind on fertiliser so need to get a second split on this ground now – another job to keep me busy!

Reseeding

We sprayed off 11 acres to reseed last week. This was grazed for the second time on the 13th April then sprayed. It’s later than I would like but hopefully will work out. In terms of drought mid-May to start of August is too risky to reseed. After spraying it will get lime, farmyard manure then will be disked twice before sowing. The grass seed mix we are using won’t have diploid varieties. We have drier ground and tetraploids have performed well on this farm so going with a tetraploid and white clover.     

Reseeding is the main way we are getting clover into swards – once established that will help me reduce our chemical nitrogen input.

I see reseeding as free grass. It costs a lot to reseed (~€300 + per acre) but well worth the investment.  For me the big thing is the number of grazings per year, the rotation length is shorter with the fresh reseeds which means more grass grown per year. It really stands out.  You see it in the bulk tank too which is always a help!


 

 

Farm Update March 2023

Shay Ryan is milking 180 cows near New Ross with his wife Catriona, his father and uncle. The farm is part of the Teagasc/Tirlán Signpost Programme. Advisors Kay O’Connell and Sandra Hayes.

March time

So far it’s been a March of many weathers here.  A busy few weeks with calving and now my focus is turning to breeding. The future of the herd is the heifers.  Genetically they are the best stock in the herd. They went out to grass on 7th March. They graze silage ground before closing and they are moved to fresh grass every five days, more often in bad weather.  They don’t get meal at grass. Getting them out early and having a month at grass is better than any meal to get them fit for breeding. Any smaller/lighter heifers were housed first and got meal during housing (2kg 16% CP high energy nut) to bring them up to target weight. The bigger ones were at grass until the end of November. There is very little difference in them now.

Vaccinations

Before turnout they were vaccinated for leptospirosis and had got their IBR vaccine already. They also get a mineral bolus. There aren’t any major mineral deficiencies in the herd but I feel when synchronising them and spending the money on it you have to give them every chance. They were freeze branded over their first winter. Being able to identify them easily is very important. Whether it is for AI, vaccinating etc., even with the stock bull, records and simplicity are key.

AI

The AI straws I select now will influence my herd for many years so I think it’s important to put time into bull selection.   

I will select a team of high EBI AI bulls. I put emphasis on high fertility, high milk solids and maintenance.  I have ordered sexed semen already as it might not be so readily available for some of the bulls so wanted to be sure I got what I wanted. It will be used on some of the heifers and then first and second lactation cows that have calved early and that are ticking all the boxes for me. 

Breeding replacements

I also put time into selecting which cows I will breed for replacements. For me, it’s far easier to select the bulls than the cows.   Cows with good feet, correct udder and that are very easy to handle – the cows I like to milk. I put a lot down to that.  Spending four hours a day in the parlour I need to be able to work with these girls!! Then I’m looking at percentages – they have to earn their keep. I look at milk recording data – it’s very good. Cows that I thought that were better don’t always show that in the figures.  At the same time the best cow on paper might not be easy to work with or good on feet etc. Once I’ve made my decision I’ll use the sire advice programme to match the bull to the cows I’ve selected.

Heat detection

Heat detection will be tail paint and vasectomised bulls.  The bulls were vasectomised last autumn. Start of breeding for heifers will be the 24th April and cows straight after that. I tail paint for 3 week in advance. Any ones that haven’t been seen cycling at 3-3.5 weeks are investigated and some will be treated. It has been the best February for calving ever.  Still some girls to calve but going well. The last thing I want is cows calving and breeding at the same time! Looking forward to breeding then roll on the 10th June when bulls go in!!   


 

Farm Update February 2023

Getting the most out of slurry

Like many farmers I no longer view slurry as a waste but a valuable resource. For me slurry is one way I can farm sustainably, from an economic and environmental perspective. Slurry went out on around 50% of the farm on 22nd January, applied with an umbilical system by my contractor. I have my own trailing shoe but used the contractor to save time.  The second reason I used the contractor is that I am saving my roadways, gaps etc., by not travelling with tanker at that time of the year.  The contractor was asked to spread 2,000 gallons/acre on grass covers <700 DM/ha. I also use the maps from my nutrient management plan to see which are low in P&K and tried to target those. I could have spread more slurry on that date but I didn’t as it would have meant going into wetter land. I know the nutrient value of the slurry and know it would be more beneficial to hold off until growing conditions were better and the risk of nutrient losses was lower.  Luckily, I have the extra slurry capacity now which gave me the comfort to hold off spreading.

There is no point in throwing out slurry for the sake of throwing it out.

The Value of Slurry

At current fertiliser prices, Teagasc say 1,000 gallons of slurry is worth €50 in terms of nutrients.  As part of the Signpost Programme, slurry analysis on my farm showed a nutrient content of 6 units of nitrogen, 5 units of Phosphorus and 40 units of potassium per 1000 gallons.  The analysis highlighted the high K in my slurry – this is a big asset to have for silage ground. When planning chemical fertiliser for silage I will tailor the type to allow for the nutrients already applied in slurry.  The silage ground is getting slurry this week. I’m spreading it with my trailing shoe. It’s slower than with a dribble bar and you need more horsepower, particularly on hilly ground, but it was well worth the investment. LESS technology give me more days available for spreading as I can go in on heavier covers and spread that valuable resource the stock have produced over the winter!

Protected Urea

Chemical fertiliser is also going out this week. I’ll spread 20 units of nitrogen/ac on any ground that hasn’t got slurry. Soil temperatures have consistently been 7OC for the last number of days and I’ll be keeping an eye on local weather forecast to ensure I get a good response and don’t risk losses. The nitrogen is going out as protected urea which is in the yard. I had no difficulty getting it – it’s to be got. If you ask enough questions and you’ll get it. It might not be available on the day you want to spread but if you plan ahead it will be there. I am using it as I trust the science – I’ve used it for a few years now and it works just as well as any other fertiliser.  I’ve bought enough for spring and summer applications this year.


 

Farm Update January 2023

Plans to Improve Sustainability in 2023

Shay Ryan is farming 97 near New Ross with his wife Catriona, his father and uncle. 180 cows to be calved down in spring of 2023. The farm is part of the Teagasc/Tirlán Signpost Programme.

Labour

I was asked the question recently about how am I going to be more sustainable in 2023? For me the big thing is labour and making things as efficient as possible.  My aim is to make the farm more streamlined. This started with an upgrade of milking facilities with an extension of the milking parlour and dairy and a new tank and draughting area. This will mean improved cow flow and handling and save time in the parlour.  I also plan to exit cattle rearing which will reduce stock groups from six to three. In 2023 tillage will be reduced to one field on out-block where the tillage will be used as a method of freshening up the land before going back into grass. 

They say the best laid plans go awry and unfortunately it applies to our yard at the moment. It is still a mess, cows have started calving and the parlour is not running, there isn’t any hot water, penning needs to be sorted among other things. The learning for me would be to get a main contractor to do the job rather than me trying to co-ordinate the job directly and relying on friends/people I knowAs I had worked as builder/plasterer previously I find it hard to stand back and get someone else in.  I had it in my head that it was a slack time of the year but there’s no slack time anymore.  It’s going to be messy for a week or so. I’m tackling the jobs I can and keeping the pressure on the guys to get the work finished.

Increasing days grazing

Another aim for this year is to get as many grazing days as possible. Also I know the cows will benefit from a production and health perspective. The more days my cows are at grass the better the milk solids I’ll get. Grazing days require grass and keeping ground reseeded is key.  Over the last few years 15-20% of the farm was reseeded. This year plan is for 10-15% reseeding including clover, depending on growth. I will be able to see from grass measurement and using Pasturebase what growth is like and that will decide when I can reseed. 

Better use of slurry

The management of nutrients through slurry and fertiliser is another way am I going to be more sustainable this year. I have bought protected urea and will use that throughout the year.  I’ve used it the last few years and have been happy with it.  This is my sixth year using LESS. The first year I used a contractor then bought a trailing shoe.  I wouldn’t go back.  As part of the Signpost Programme I got my slurry tested. It made me realise the value of the slurry and especially soiled water. Knowing the nutrient value means I can plan where to spread to best utilise the nutrients. I plan to spread around 2,000-2,500 gallons / acre of slurry at the end of Jan/start of February. This is when I’ll get better value of the nutrients than applying any earlier.