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Ballyhaise Research Farm March Update


The Ballyhaise research programme has for 15 years focused on improving grazing systems for farmers in the BMW (Border Midlands West) region . The research looked at stocking rate, days at grass, calving date and feed inputs. Here Dairy Specialist James Dunne gives more information on new research

The research in Ballyhaise has demonstrated that highly productive and profitable grass based systems of milk production can be operated on mixed soil types in the BMW region of Ireland. While this may seem like an obvious statement now, at the beginning of the programme the possibility of running a grass based system in Co. Cavan was very much up for debate. Over this time the system has been tweaked to suit the soil type and growth pattern in Ballyhaise. The basic idea remains the same, grow high levels of quality pasture and convert this to milk solids with high EBI spring calving cows.

There are now 15 seasons of accurate grass production and grazing data for Ballyhaise giving a clear and balanced view of what level of performance is possible on such soil types in the region. The five year average grass production is 14.5 tonnes DM / ha with 11.5 tonnes utilised. To date this level of production has been achieved with a chemical N input of 250kg N / ha.

New Nitrogen Input Trial (2021 – 2025)

The use of chemical nitrogen to increase grass production has been a key technology leading to increased output per ha over the past number of decades. In more recent times nitrogen inputs into dairy systems have been called into question from an environmental point of view. A large amount of work has taken place in Moorepark looking at the use of clover in swards to reduce the use of chemical nitrogen in dairy systems with impressive results. However the uptake at farm level has been slow, particularly in the northern half of the country. Questions remain about the suitability of clover on heavy soils and also the real cost of the conversion process. In addition to nitrogen fertiliser, feed inputs also affect the nitrogen surplus within farm systems. A new systems experiment focused on reducing nitrogen inputs by 50% is going to take place over the next five years in Ballyhaise. 

The experiment will focus on the transition from a grass based 250kg N / ha system to aclover based 125kg N / ha system. Crucially all systems will start with no clover in swards and on the clover treatments will aim to establish 20% clover over a number of years. This will involve high levels of reseeding (25% of area in first 3 years) and the effects of this on the feed budget and silage production will be measured across time.

In addition to reseeding, stitching clover into existing swards will be used to try to increase clover inclusion as quickly as possible. On top of the clover and reducing fertiliser N the impact of reducing concentrate feeding levels willalosbe looed at. Two levels of concentrate feeding will be carried out – 1200kg and 600kg per lactation. The combination of establishing clover in swards to allow fertiliser application to be reduced and the reduction in concentrate feeding levels will lead to a 50% reduction in N imported into the system if current levels of pasture production can be sustained. 

Table 1: Four Treatment Groups

 Grass HCGrass LCClover HC*Clover LC*
Stocking rate MP 2.7 2.7 2.7 2.7
Stocking rate WF 2.4 2.4 2.4 2.4
Chemical N (kg/ha) 250 250 125 125
Concentrate (kg/cow) 1200 600 1200 600
Target clover % 0 0 20 20

HC (High Concentrate) LC (Low Concentrate) 

*On the clover treatments it will take a number of years to reduce chemical N to 125kg / ha as this will depend on clover % in each paddock

Current Situation - Date: 08/03/20

 Grass HCGrass LCClover HCClover LC
GRASS        
Farm cover  900 704 820 886
Growth 15 1 17 15
Demand 14 25 24 24
SR 1.16 1.76 1.67 1.69
% Grazed 20 26 22 20
Kg N/ha to date  70 70 70 70
FEED        
Concentrate (kg/cow) 6 4 6 4
Silage (kg/cow) 0 0 0 0
PRODUCTION        
Litres/cow 22 22 20 22
Fat % 6.66 6.48 6.69 6.57
Protein % 3.64 3.86 3.87 3.74
Kg milksolids 2.22 2.30 2.10 2.30
CALVING        
Start date 10th February 10th February 10th February 10th February
% calved 44 64 68 64