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Current Farm Update

November 2022

I had a farm walk with all the demonstration farmers last week.  It was a walk to review the actions I have taken recently to improve sustainability on the farm.  A number of topics were covered including the use of protected urea, clover, reducing reliance on bagged nitrogen, breeding for the future.  I will talk about some of them here and over the next 2 articles we will highlight the main things we have done to maintain profit and reduce emissions.

Protected Urea

I have used protected urea in 2022, increasing the proportion of nitrogen spread as protected urea from 33% of total nitrogen spread as protected urea in 2021 to 53% of total nitrogen spread as protected urea in 2022.  I had no issue with sourcing it through Kerry Agribusiness in 2022.  Normally it’s slightly more expensive that straight urea but as I am in the Evolve programme I got it for the same price as straight urea.  But it’s substantially cheaper than CAN.  I reckon it’s at least 25% cheaper than CAN.

Spreading Fertiliser

It has worked really well for me this year.  I don’t see any difference in grass growth.  The advantage of the protected urea over straight urea is that it can be used any time of the year, even in dry weather.  I had a few issues with handling it in 2021 but no problems this year.  A few lumps in it but when spreading, no problem.  The coating seems to be good on it this year.  I know the shelf life is 12 months but I’d be happier not buying it too far ahead and leaving it no more than 6 months.  For 2023, I have bought forward some fertiliser but not protected urea.  I have it pre-ordered but not bought yet.  I will probably wait until the Spring.  As regards its workability, I see no problems with it.  I have an amazon spreader and I use the app on the phone to plan rates.  This app has all the fertilisers on it.  I punch in information on spreader type and width, the speed, amount of fertiliser per hectare needed and it gives me the setting.  It’s not a fancy spreader but the app is very useful with it.  It more accurate so it cuts back on waste which is important when you consider how expensive fertiliser is. I am happy with it overall. 

Reduced Chemical Nitrogen Usage

I have reduced my chemical nitrogen usage on the farm from 210 kg chemical N / hectare in 2021 to 153 kg chemical N / ha in 2022.  I am not sure yet but I think I may have pulled it back more than I should, I am waiting on the final grass growth figures for the year and we will see then.  I will cover this in the article in December.   

Update on my Solar Panels

I mentioned during the summer that I put in solar panels.  They are working well I think but their potential is not fully realised yet.  The energy I am producing during the day is not fully used and is going to the national grid, free of charge!  I am waiting on the electrician to come and connect the icebank which will allow me to get more use out of the energy generated.  I could put in a smart meter and sell the excess to the grid but I am hearing pros and cons to doing that. 


 

September 2022

Soil Fertility

Potash levels on the farm have been poor historically. I know that if I want to maximise grass growth and at the same time reduce the chemical nitrogen (N) usage on the farm, I need to get the soil fertility right.  Potash is a cheaper nutrient to buy.  We have done a lot of work in recent years to sort this out.  At this stage, the home farm has all Index 3 and 4 soil.  The rented block of land has low soil fertility and much of it is Index 1 and 2 for P and K. It got gran lime this year to lift the pH.

Potash

So back in 2018 I set about sorting them out.  My starting point was to make sure my soil samples were up to date which they need to be for derogation anyway.  So Spring of 2019 I got my nutrient management plan done and, with my advisor, Nora O’Donovan, I set about looking at the maps and marking out the fields that were low in K.  At that stage, 89% of the land was at Index 1 and 2 for K.  I have applied potash in the Autumn and got very good results with split applications of mutriate of potash in September and October, putting out 50 units per acre in total.  I have found it relatively easy to build potash levels in the soil and relatively cheap, compared to phosphorus. 

Feed

Like most other farmers, grass is very tight.  I have an average farm cover of 585 kg DM/ha with a cover per cow of 182 kg DM. The target for mid-September is 980 kg DM/ha. I was feeding 12 kg DM grass and 6 kg meals up until last week but I am now going in with silage.  Handling the drought now is far more difficult than it is during the earlier summer period because aside from feeding the cow you are also looking at building grass and with growth slowing and the shorter days, I don’t think it will recover fully. 

Protected Urea

Up until last week I hadn’t gone with any fertiliser in the previous 2 weeks.  I think if growth goes below 35 kg DM/ha, there is no point until the rain comes. So, the rain has come and I have gone out with 25 units of N as protected urea.   


 

June 2022

 

Things are relatively quiet on the farm right now. Silage is in, cows are milking well and the breeding season is going well.

The grass situation is good on the farm, average farm cover is 712 kg DM / ha. Growth is 69 kg DM/day and demand is 67 kg DM/day.  The cover per cow on the farm is 172 kg DM.  The target is to keep it between 160-180 kg DM / ha. I have no bales taken out and am keeping on top of the grass.  First cut silage was made on May 15th.  It yielded 10 bales per acre and will be of great quality. I have a fodder budget done and am in a good position.  I have a reserve of 25% of the silage from 2021, so will easily meet the target of 70% of silage conserved by mid June.  I am feeding 1.5 kg meal, just to get the minerals in.  There is plenty of grass around so I don’t need to be feeding high levels of meal.

I oversowed clover in April and this ground has been grazed 3 times already.  I am grazing low covers to give the clover every chance.  I am targeting covers of 800-1000 kg DM / ha.  The clover is coming well in the sward but it will really be next year before it takes off.  I have to walk the farm very regularly to make sure the grass clover covers on the oversown paddocks don’t get too strong before grazing.  

I am 21 days into the breeding season now and  I have a submission rate of 88% which I am very happy with.  I brought in the vet after 3 weeks of pre-breeding heat detection to examine the non cyclers.  It worked well.  We used fixed time AI on  the non cyclers.  Late calvers will be put on fixed time AI next week, 42 days after calving.  I used sex semen on the heifers this year so we will see how that works out.   My plan is to use dairy straws for the first 4 weeks of breeding and beef straws after that.  I use easy calving short gestation high DBI Angus bulls. I don’t put the stock bull in until the start of the third round.  I only have one stock bull so I want to make sure he isn’t overworked. I will AI for the first week or 10 days after the bull goes in.

I also recently purchased a 6.6 kilowatt solar panel. I hope that this will be going in over the summer.


Farm Update May 4th 2022

As mentioned in the last article I weighed the heifers in advance of the farm walk. The target for my heifers with a maintenance figure of about €20 was 300kg for the 1st April.  Overall I was very happy with their weights which averaged 340 kg, but I had 2 heifers that were 263 kg and 290 kg.  These were below target for the 1st of April but I put them out to grass that day so I am happy that they have had adequate time to make up the difference. 

Clover

I stitched in clover using a grass harrow with an air seeder into a field I reseeded last year on the 12th of April, considerably earlier than last year which should work in my favour as I got hit with drought last year.  It was peeking up after 7 days and I grazed it after 10 days.  I will graze it next at a cover of 1,000 kg so I will probably be grazing it in a week’s time.  I will be watching it closely, so walking the ground twice a week, to make sure the cover doesn’t get too heavy for grazing.  I want to give the clover every chance.  The paddock is beside the yard which makes it easier for keeping an eye on it but if it was away from the yard I would need to make a conscious effort to watch it.  There has been no N spread on this ground since stitching in the clover but it will get 10 units after every grazing for the remainder of the grazing season.

I did a full reseed also last week on some ground that was performing poorly.  I used the Kerry TS3 mix with clover.  Varieties include Abergain, Aberchoice, Ballyvoy & Ballintoy and includes 0.6 kg of uncoated medium leaf white clover.

Fodder Budget

Another job done this month is the fodder budget.  It’s an important year to not skimp on fertiliser for silage ground, even if it is expensive. Luckily I am in a good position and glad I have the budget done – it takes the guess work out of it. 

Breeding

The breeding season is kicked off on the farm on 3rd May.  I have been tail painting for 3 weeks pre-breeding and recording heats. I’ve been doing this for the last few years and find it a huge help. I have the vet booked to check any of the cows that haven’t come bulling before breeding starts.  Typically, the vet will come in at 24-25 days after the three weeks of pre-heat observations.  I am using scratch cards on the heifers.  I also bought a teaser bull for the first time this year. I am planning to use him 4-5 weeks into the breeding when the cows start to slow down, so I expect to find him a big help.  I bought him early to make sure I could isolate him for a while and do all the necessary vaccinations – Lepto, BVD and IBR.  Basically he is treated the same as the cows.   I used the ICBF Sire Advice tool to match bulls with cows.  The bull panel is €288 for EBI with milk at €111, fertility at €119 and solids at +32 kgs with strong percentages.

Infrastructure

I have put in new drafting facilities this year which should make my job a lot easier.  Up to this I was in and out of the pit drafting cows and that’s very inefficient.  It’s a cheap job, just €900 but I can manually operate it from the pit which makes drafting cows very easy.  I also added a concrete footbath as I have some lame cows. Both of these are working very well.