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Sunday 11 December 2016

We need to try and stay cool during the stress of silage time

Gerard Sherlock

Published 17/05/2011 | 05:00

Dairy farmers have to be very happy with the year so far. April was as ideal a month as we could have had -- dry sunny days, ideal grazing conditions, and good growth. This month's rain has been very welcome so far, but I stress 'so far'.

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Production figures for the week ending May 13 are 28.2l at 3.48pc butterfat and 3.32pc protein. Thanks to Mary Kinston's piece on this page last week, I know that this translates into 1.97kg milk solids. As she stated, "any herd near 2kgMS would be considered to be doing very well".

Looking back at previous years' figures, I see that my proteins are much improved. Last year they were 3.16pc. The extra protein could be an extra 1c/l.

What do I put it down to? A combination of cows on good silage over the winter, cows out on grass early, top-quality grazing conditions during April and some carry-over cows (12pc). From past experience, when proteins don't drop below 3pc they rise steadier and quicker. My butterfats are slightly back, but I would say this is because of the low fibre in grass.

The cows are grazing total leaf at this stage, but when grass starts heading out this should rectify itself.

I am currently feeding 4kg of a 16pc high energy maize nut. This will be reduced to 3kg shortly as grass covers increase. The carry-over cows are getting no meals.

The present stocking rate on the milking platform is 3.2cows/ha. The ideal pre-grazing yield using Teagasc's pasture wedge for me is 1,175kgDM/ha. With a projected demand of 16kgDM/cow/day, I need a growth rate of 51kgDM/day to supply demand.

So far, I am going into covers this week of 1,300-1,400kgDM/ha. But as growth rates increase, I will probably take out a paddock for baling or bring it in with the first cut.

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Fertiliser is being spread once a week at a rate of 15 units/ac. I switched from urea to CAN three weeks ago during the sunny, dry weather but have started again with urea since the rain. In June, I usually sow pasture/cut sward for one or two rounds to help the PKs as virtually no slurry is applied to the milking block. That could change this year depending on what way fertiliser prices go.

Some of this year's calves are on grass since May 4. They are on good grass along with 1kg of a 20pc protein heifer rearer nut. They aren't too keen on the nuts with so much grass about.

Balance

The silage fields seem to have grown well. I treated about one third of the ground with Doxstar at half-rate for docks. Fertiliser is on eight weeks from today.

I intend to cut within the next two weeks. For me I balance up quality and quantity. As someone once told me, there is no point in having a pit full of super quality silage and it all eaten by February 1. With contractor prices up this year due to the diesel, we have to get value for money.

Silage can be a stressful time, especially if weather isn't favourable. We all must try and stay cool. Sometimes when we see the neighbour at it, we feel we should be too. I remember not so many years ago the silage took two or three days. Now we complain if it is not done in two or three hours.

Times have changed. I do a grass sugar test and nitrogen check before mowing to give me a little peace of mind as to what the quality will be like. If there are good wilting conditions I will turn the swath. But there has to be good sunshine to have an impact. The pit is filled quickly and rolled and covered with two polythene covers. I use six-inch concrete blocks along the walls. I sprinkle Silagesave powder around the edges of the pit, which reduces wastage.

Careful

Silage time should also be a safe time. We can't be careful enough around silage pits. The walls just never seem high enough for that last field of grass. I dread high pits as they are so difficult to cover, as well as the danger involved. I use a 10-foot high barrier at the front of the pit. They are very safe and leave the pit easily filled from the ramp side. This year I have 15ft of last year's silage left in the pit. I will not move it, just fill over it with grass.

Talking safety, this week I will give the tractors their annual service. As there is more demand on tractors now, they must be ready for work. Nothing annoys me more than a tractor giving up when you most need it or as someone once told me "you need a good tractor for lending".

The good April left the job of spot spraying weeds a priority before they went to seed. Thankfully, my student Kieran was happy to go off each day with the back sprayer. He sprayed docks with Bandock, thistles with Forefront and nettles with Nettleban, just before his 12-week placement finished. The time flew. It was a challenge for me to have somebody working with me. I was lucky I got a keen, interested person. Kieran hopes to travel to New Zealand in July to work for six months on another dairy farm.

Tomorrow, our discussion group meets up to discuss labour and the summer wedge. Labour is always very topical and as we all look to expand in the future, labour will be stretched. As one member of our group puts it "more cows, more work".

Gerard Sherlock is a dairy farmer from Tydavnet, Co Monaghan

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