Like many others I am continuing to adjust to working from home. My normal weekly routine of visiting farms throughout Ireland and abroad has been replaced by remote communication.
The use of modern technology has certainly made these tasks all the more possible.
Over the past few weeks I have been inspecting cattle condition, TMR mixes and assessing lameness issues via Skype, Zoom and WhatsApp calls. Using these technologies to their best effect will certainly allow me and other companies to re-evaluate how we can serve our customers in the post-Covid-19 world.
Last week I received delivery of the first local grass sample to analyse for its suitability for silage making. The grass was reseeded in August 2019 and no grazing had taken place due to the wet autumn and spring conditions.
It had received an application of slurry in January and urea was spread at a rate of 40 units/ hectare in February in preparation for the grazing season.
By the time the ground was suitable for grazing, covers exceeded 2,200kg DM/ hectare.
With a burst of growth over the following two-week period the fields were deemed too strong for grazing and decision was made to make an early cut of silage subject to the grass analysis results.
Grass dry matter was at 17.8pc, protein content of 25.47pc, NDF of 42.29pc, ADF of 22.54pc and a sugar content of 7.36pc. The overall DMD of the fresh grass was 78.43pc. Normal April conditions would dictate that the harvesting of this grass would be far too risky.
With low dry matter, high protein and moderate sugars levels, the chances of producing a wet, poorly fermented silage would be high.
However, with the excellent spell of weather, the crop was mown, tedded and harvested in a 36-hour window last week. Given the weather conditions and the harvesting protocol used, I would expect this silage to be of excellent quality.
Aside from the obvious factors of weather and contractor availability, grass nitrogen levels will be one of the main reasons to delay silage harvesting date.
I have often seen grass crops that are ideal for making high-quality silage miss their ideal harvest opportunity due to fears of nitrogen still being present in the grass.
In some cases, with a break in the weather, this delay could last a number of weeks, by which time the chance of making quality silage is gone.
The presence of some nitrogen in the grass can be somewhat offset where the sugar levels are high, the grass crop receives a good wilt and/ or an appropriate silage additive is used.
As well as the burst in grass growth over the past number of weeks, the excellent weather has provided the perfect conditions for the setting of maize around the country.
The vast majority of maize is now grown under plastic, which makes it an easily identifiable crop at this time of year.
A sowing date of early to mid-April should ensure that the crops can perform to their optimum and possibly allow for slightly earlier harvesting date.
Maize is a popular crop on many Irish beef farms and is becoming increasingly so with tillage farmers who grow it on contract for livestock holdings.
Maize silage provides an excellent complement to grass silage. It is a high-starch forage with high levels of digestible fibre which counteracts the areas in which grass silage is deficient.
The availability and price of imported fibre sources continues to be an issue and the addition of maize silage, especially in beef finishing diets, can help reduce the requirement for imported fibres.
For anyone contemplating purchasing maize silage on a contract-grown basis, it is important to remember that the grower incurs a lot of costs while producing the crop.
Depending on the forage market circumstances and the haulage distance required, maize silage can usually be purchased at €50-€60/t.
In my opinion, this represents very good value given the high dry matter, high DMD, energy in the form starch and digestible fibre contained.