Farm Ireland

Saturday 19 January 2019

It's time for plan B as weather scuppers our spring grazing and slurry targets

A horses in snow covered field in Athy, Co Kildare as the severe weather conditions continue. Niall Carson/PA Wire
A horses in snow covered field in Athy, Co Kildare as the severe weather conditions continue. Niall Carson/PA Wire

Robin Talbot

Our plans for spring grazing have certainly gone out the window this year.

Some of it was our own fault but it also certainly exposed the key weakness of calendar farming.

We would always have closed up our grazing fields in rotation in the autumn; the driest fields first because they are the fields that you are going to get the best chance to get out to graze early in the spring. As we are constantly told, any grass that is grazed in late February/early March is grass that was grown in October.

While we didn't have huge covers on these fields this spring, there was certainly enough grass to warrant early turnout of some stock.

Our plan would have been to graze off these covers and then apply 2,500 gallons slurry/acre.

But, unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas.

Ground got so wet that we could not get out to graze these fields without doing a lot of poaching.

So we waited and waited and waited, for ground conditions to improve but unfortunately it was the other way that it was going.

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While we were waiting, our slurry tanks were getting fuller and fuller. So it ended up that we had to go spread slurry on these drier fields with their covers of grass, which ended up being a total mess.

These fields are now quite wet on the surface because of the slurry and the grass is contaminated with slurry.

So its not looking good to get a grazing off these fields at all this spring.

Apart from missing out of the grazing, it greatly concerns me that we might actually end up contaminating next year's silage.

Surely there must be a better way of managing slurry spreading at a national level!

For instance, if you think back, this past winter, there was a dry spell when conditions were quite good, in December.

Would it not be possible to have a notification system from the Department in conjunction with Met Eireann that, when conditions are suitable, we would be allowed to spread. When they are not suitable, you don't spread. Obviously this would need to be policed - but I'd have no problem with that.

We scanned our heifers a few weeks ago. We have 36 in-calf out of 40, over an eight-week breeding cycle. Two of the four that weren't in-calf showed up in the scan to be unsuitable for breeding and were probably half-twins. These four heifers are now being fattened.

One of the good things that showed up in the scan is that none of the heifers were in calf when they arrived on the farm.

It used to be a problem a few years ago, with bought-in replacements. But since we started buying our replacement heifers a lot lighter and younger, that problem has been virtually eliminated.

We plan to scan the cows this coming week.

As soon as they are scanned, we will start sorting them. Since the cows rearing heifer calves will be grazed separately from those rearing bulls, any that haven't already been segregated will be done now.


We do an additional sorting of the bull calves, by age.

We finish all our males as bulls under 16 months so, by sorting them by age at this stage while they are still running with the cows, it avoids any fighting.

If we mixed them after weaning when they are a lot stronger, it tends to be more stressful on them.

Cows that are scanned not in calf will be put with the cull cows.

We also faced the usual anxious wait for the herd TB test.

We had one inconclusive, who will either be sent for slaughter or can be retested in 42 days.

We hope to get some fertiliser out on grass this week. Better late than never.

Some urea will be spread on the silage ground and we will start off with probably 2 CWT 18-16-12 per acre on the grazing ground.

I plan to do work on some of the paddocks.

A few fields that were re-seeded last year had been in paddocks. We took down the wires to reseed so I am planning to put back up those wires and put in a few extra paddocks.

We are trying to set them up, roughly, as paddocks that will be grazed in two days.

So, instead of 5, 6 or even 7 paddocks in a rotation, I hope we will have 8 or 9.

We weighed our beef heifers a few weeks ago. They averaged 547kg, at an average age of 523 days.

At the moment, they are on 8kg barley, wheat, oats and molasses plus 12kg of good quality first cut silage plus .5kg straw. I think they are well on target to average 360kg carcase, at 20 months.

Hopefully, there will be a price lift between this and then.

Robin Talbot farms in partnership with his mother Pam and wife Ann, in Ballacolla, Co Laois.

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