Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 April 2019

Robin Talbot: The main lesson from this winter? You can never have enough silage

People are under a lot of pressure for feed at the moment
People are under a lot of pressure for feed at the moment

Robin Talbot

I always believe you shouldn't wish your life away. But like many farmers, I can't wait to see the end of what has been a horrendous March. While there was a lot of talk during the snow - and rightly so - about checking in on your neighbours, I think that advice still holds.

I feel that people are under a lot of pressure at the moment, with feed getting scarce or gone, and virtually no growth yet.

If, on top of that, lambing or calving hasn't been going particularly well, it adds up to a troublesome mix.

On our own farm, we felt at the start of winter that we had ample silage in the pits and I was actually wondering how much we would have left over. But now we are down to counting the grab-fuls and how many days it will last.

I am happy enough we will have enough... but just by the skin of our teeth.

The main lesson we have learned is that you can never make too much silage.

Our priority now is to start turning some of the cows with bull calves out in small groups. At least that will lighten the load on the remaining feed. Although there is not much grass about, underfoot conditions have improved significantly. Checking the soil temperature before I sat down to write these words, I discovered that it is still hovering around 5C.

On a positive note, we scanned all the cows recently and were delighted with the results, except for one group.

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The average was 92pc in-calf. One group had 100pc. Almost 80pc of them went in calf in the first 30 days.

The group that let us down has me puzzled. The only selection on these cows was the fact they were rearing heifer calves. What makes it even more surprising is that their comrades - the cows rearing the bull calves of the same age - were the group that had 100pc in calf.

To add further to the mix, it was the same three bulls that were rotated between these two groups.

So I suppose we need to do a little bit more in-depth investigation.

We got a chance a few weeks ago to top-dress our winter barley. We spread 4cwt/acre of 10-5-25.

I was satisfied when the job was finished that we had succeeded in getting it done in quite good conditions.

But unfortunately the following day was the wettest we have had in a very long time, with the rain absolutely pouring down.

So we will just have to wait and see what response we get from that application.

We spread FYM on our stubble ground for spring barley and hopefully we will get that ploughed in shortly, though we are obviously in no rush at the moment to sow anything.

Last week, we had to do one of the most unproductive jobs you can do around the farm - to pump slurry from one tank to the other because one was full and there was no travelling the land to spread it. Luckily, there was space in another tank.

We also took a few loads out of a second tank that was filling up. Unfortunately, a lot of snow drifted into the pens and as soon as it melted, the tanks were full again, so we had to go and move more.

The snow also made a right mess of the straw-bedded sheds, drifting in there in trailer-loads. We also had to clean those sheds out because the beds got so wet.

We have always bought in our replacement heifers. Hopefully we will be able to do the same this year. But we had an inconclusive cow in our herd test last month.

We can re-test her next week. If she goes clear, happy days. But if she goes down, I believe we are looking at two tests, at least. We would also be looking at being restricted, which would mean we couldn't buy in replacements.

But there is no point in meeting trouble halfway.

At least we have the option of keeping our own heifers to maintain our numbers.

We sold to the factory the first of our beef heifers that are 19 months old.

I had the feeling that these heifers were thriving well and were quite fit. They killed at 374kg carcase weight on average.

They were finished to the limit. They all had fat scores of four, with two of them coming in as four pluses.

So obviously we will have to keep them moved more quickly than I had intended.

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

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