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Major turnout at least 7-10 days away on drystock farms

Major turnout at least 7-10 days away on drystock farms

High levels of rainfall, resulting in challenging grazing conditions, have created difficulties on beef and sheep farms this spring, Pearse Kelly, Teagasc Head of Drystock Knowledge Transfer, told the National Fodder and Food Security Committee on March 29.

Painting a picture of the situation on the ground, results of a short survey circulated to farmers on March 27 by Teagasc advisory and specialist staff were presented.

Compiling results from 784 respondents - of which 329 (42%) were suckler farmers, 140 (18%) operated dairy calf to beef production systems, 167 (21%) were cattle finishers and 148 (19%) were mixed beef and sheep farmers - Pearse explained that 381 farmers (49% of respondents) had insufficient silage stocks to feed stock for the next three weeks. 29% (229 participants) had less than 10 days of silage available. To bridge the gap between silage supplies and turnout, Pearse noted that 271 respondents (35%) are purchasing silage, with the vast majority reporting prices of €30-50/bale.

The survey also aimed to examine the extent to which grazing has been achieved on farms this spring, with just 23% of farmers reporting to have stock at grass now. However, this varies from region to region; just 12% of respondents have stock at grass in Ulster, 15% in Munster, 21% in Connacht and 28% in Leinster. Additionally, just 11% (83 respondents) of those who responded to the survey had fertiliser spread.

Furthermore, the survey also indicated that slurry storage is becoming an issue on some drystock farms. Given the limited opportunities to apply slurry on account of heavy rainfall and water-logged soils, Pearse noted that 66% of farmers reported that slurry storage was becoming an issue, with this ranging from 62% in Connacht to 74% of respondents in Ulster.

Feedback from advisors and specialists

Along with presenting the survey results, Pearse provided feedback from advisory and specialist staff across the country, noting that the majority of DairyBeef 500 and Future Beef demonstrate farms have adequate silage for the next number of weeks, but most are approaching slurry storage capacity.

On the prospect of turning numbers of stock out to grass, he noted that it will be approximately 7-10 days before this is a realistic prospect for many farms and it will largely depend on the drying conditions experienced over the coming days.

On the silage supply situation, the Teagasc Head of Drystock Knowledge Transfer told the committee that silage is moving between farms in the south and south east and, as of yet, there is no issue with supply or there has been no significant rise in bale costs.

However, he noted that a change of tack is required for many drystock farmers when producing silage this year, adding: “On account of disruptions to grazing this spring, most drystock farms will not now be in a position to graze heavy covers on silage ground and complete the first rotation in a reasonable amount of time.

“Farmers should not attempt to graze silage ground at this stage and instead they should apply 40-50 units of nitrogen per acre and cut in early May. Given that most land is untrafficable currently, farmers will have limited opportunities to apply slurry to silage ground. Where this can’t be achieved, fertiliser plans should be adjusted to account for artificial phosphorous and potassium on silage ground.”

Additionally, he noted, as many farmers have struggled to get large numbers of stock out to grass to date, there may be an opportunity to take surplus bales off some of the grazing fields to finish the first grazing rotation this year.

Sheep farms

Pearse also provided an update from the BETTER Sheep Farms, noting that the participants are getting ewes and lambs out to grass on dry days and there is plenty of grass available, but utilisation is very poor.

To avoid a grass shortage by the end of April, something he said is a real risk on sheep farms as very little fertiliser has been spread to date, he told the committee that fertiliser applications should be prioritised to ensure grass supply meets demand in the coming weeks. Where farmers have concerns with grass supply and demand meeting, he advised the feeding of concentrates to slow down the rotation to allow time for fertiliser to grow grass.

Also read: Advisory messages from the National Fodder and Food Security Committee meeting

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