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Friday 9 December 2016

Reseeding is key to unlocking the land's potential

An intensive reseeding programme being rolled out on a Kilkenny farm in response to the sharp rise in cow numbers.

Published 30/03/2016 | 02:30

PJ O'Keeffe on the family farm in Callan, Co Kilkenny. Photo: Pat Moore.
PJ O'Keeffe on the family farm in Callan, Co Kilkenny. Photo: Pat Moore.

Since taking over the family farm outside Callan from his parents John and Joan 18-months ago, 30-year-old PJ O'Keeffe has been continuing a massive development of the physical infrastructure above and below the ground.

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He has been following a rapid expansion plan that saw the 162ha farm with a milking platform of 123ha move from milking 72 cows in 2011 to 320 this year, with 400 in sight by 2018.

To keep up with the ever growing demand for the 'cheapest feedstuff' grass from his expanding, PJ plans to reseed around 15pc or 25ha of the farm this year. In 2015 PJ and Pádraic McGrath, who works full-time on the farm, reseeded around 60ha in total after renting an additional 26ha.

"I want to grow a lot of grass - it is as simple as that. I want to maximise what the farm can do," he says. "I believe reseeding every five years will do that - 20pc of the farm each year is my target, with 15pc being reseeded this year. I'm cutting it back 5pc for cashflow," explains PJ who hosted a Teagasc spring grazing walk on his farm.

Rather than opting for a mixed sward, PJ says he is going to opt for straight AberGain grass seed, which is the highest performing late tetraploid variety on the Pasture Profit Index (PPI) with a profitability of €199/ha/year.

"It looks a heavy farm but it is well able to cope. Cows absolutely nail the AberGain down to the ground, it has great palatability. I know that is showing on the Pasture Profit Index but it is showing on the ground to me, often times you see things working on paper that won't work on your farm.

"I've tried numerous different mixes. I've had grass in fields that I've had to take out after two years as cows just weren't grazing it out."

He says "consistency" is important with the diet of the cows, and he feels reseeding with the single variety AberGain will deliver it as they won't be picking and choosing between pastures.

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Costs

The costs of reseeding on the farm have varied between traditional plough, till and sow and min-till or stitching in, with the price from €300/ac down to €195/ac. In most cases the land was sprayed off with Roundup at around 6l/ha, when it was burned off it was generally ploughed, tilled and sowed.

PJ also points out that it is key to have good advice on reseeding, with the agronomist in the spray retailer examining the fields on his farm to assess weeds in the pasture to help select the reseeding method.

He points out some fields are simply not suited to min-till as he has found it poor at killing meadow grasses.

After an extra 26ha were rented last year, PJ explains he had planned to reseed half of that over the next few weeks but that may have to be put on hold as he is short grass due to poor growth so far this spring.

"The poorest time I see for reseeding is the back end of the year. I've a field that was reseeded on October 10, which is considered a bit late, but with growth rates it looked like a good idea. But that field is not going to be available for grazing up to the end of April. It is too long out of the system," he says.

"If I'm doing a min-till job and taking 5pc out of the system at different times of the year there is far less pressure on the system."

Prior to reseeding, PJ was growing 13.5t/DM ha of grass but hopes to grow 16t/DM ha.

"I hope to max out in two or three years at around 17t/DM ha, whether that is achievable or not it is a target of mine," he says, with recent soil tests showing P and K indexes at 3 and mainly 4.

"I think I'm good with grass, what is going to kill me going forward is days at grass. Our ability as farmers to grow and utilise as much grass as possible at the shoulders of the year is going to be the key to our long term sustainability."

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