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Maximizing the Use of Slurry and a Plan for Fertiliser this spring

Aonghusa Fahy from Ardrahan Co. Galway is a Participant in the Teagasc Future Beef Programme. He discusses his fertiliser plans for 2022. As a young farmer, developing his farm, cutting back on stock is not an option to save costs for Aonghusa. Instead he will maximise slurry and protected urea

Photo above: After a mild winter there are above average grass covers on the farm

This week, I phoned three merchants to price Urea and it will cost approximately €1000/tonne. Last year I paid on average €420/tonne for fertiliser.  Other inputs such as meal and fuel have increased also. These increases in the prices of inputs is a major challenge for 2022! I am hoping that the increased cost in fertiliser will only be for the short-term and will revert back to a more “normal” price later on in the year. 

Maximising slurry

A lot of drystock farmers might be opting to reduce numbers and spread less fertiliser but I am a young farmer and in the process of developing the farm so reducing stock numbers is not an option for me. So I plan to make the maximum use of my slurry to supply N, P and K to the silage ground. The slurry will be spread with a dribble bar and I will delay spreading to late February or early March. The grass will have more demand for the nutrients at that time. My Adviser told me that a 2500gal tanker of slurry is worth €100 in nutrients now, so I plan to use it wisely.

Protected Urea is the cheapest form of Nitrogen

For the first part of the year I will only use Protected Urea plus Sulphur. While a €1000/tonne seems very expensive compared to other blends at €750-€850, Urea is the cheapest form of Nitrogen at €2.17/kg. This compares to €3.14/kg for Nitrogen in other blends. I thought protected Urea was difficult to source but I managed to purchase 3 tonne this week from my local Co-Op. Using Protected Urea is safer for the environment  - something which we all have to be more conscious of now. I won’t spread until late February but I think it’s important to get some fertiliser into the yard now!

Calving on the farm

Calving start date is February 7th and 90% of the herd are due to calve in 6 weeks. As I work fulltime, I use both Moocall and a calving camera. I cannot forget my father, Michael, who is always willing to give a helping hand also. In 2021, I had a number of hard calvings and it was probably due to those cows been over-fat. This year, I have kept a closer eye on their body condition and the cows are on silage plus hay for the last number of weeks. All the calving pens have been power-washed and disinfected.

The winter so far has been very kind and ground conditions are good. So I am hoping to get cows out as soon as possible after calving.

Grazing the grass

I walked the land last week, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of grass on the farm and ground conditions were firm. I estimate that there is an average farm cover of between 750-1000kgs/DM/Ha which is a lot of grass for this time of year. Some of the silage paddocks, closed in October, have heavier covers. It will be difficult to spread slurry on these fields in March.

I have a pen of yearling replacement heifers, which are on meal and silage and I took a brave decision to let them to grass. I never let stock out in January before.

  • I will graze a low cover of grass first, in order to get them to acclimatise to their new surroundings.
  • After a week or so I will graze the silage ground and get it cleaned off for slurry. I am lucky that the fields are well sheltered and the ground is dry up here in Ardrahan.
  • At the same time if weather gets wet I have no problem re-housing as they are near the shed.

Having cattle out has a number of benefits

  • Grass is far more cheaper than meal and silage.
  • Cattle will perform better on grass.
  • My Teagasc Adviser tells me that spring grass is worth €2/LU/day.
  • This year’s silage will be expensive so having cattle out will allow me to carry over bales into 2022 and reduce the amount I need to make for the winter of 2022/23.

The increase in fertiliser price is something that I’ll have to take but with some planning around slurry and using Protected Urea it should minimize some of the pain!

*Aonghusa Fahy is a participant in the Teagasc Future Beef Programme. The aim of this programme is to demonstrate to beef farmers how they can produce a quality product as efficiently as possible to make beef farming more profitable while also making it more environmentally sustainable.

If you would like to read more about Aonghusa Fahy's farm check out Teagasc Future Beef Programme in Galway and also  Aonghusa Fahy

For more information please visit Teagasc Future Beef Programme Farms