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Friday 24 November 2017

'Splash plate proposals will need a lot of teasing out'

Photo: Robert Jones
Photo: Robert Jones
A cow relaxes near the breeding stand information board during the Teagasc/Aurivo Farm Walk on John Russell's farm in Monorcunningham, Co Donegal. Photo Clive Wasson

Robin Talbot

All the discussion on the use of splash plates lately has got me thinking about our own situation.

The issue arose after an end to splash plate slurry spreading was among the proposals for discussion outlined in the Environment Department's Clean Air Strategy paper. However, no decision has been taken on it.

It's probably another one of these things that, when you look at the bigger picture, seems logical but when you break it down to the impact at individual farm level, it might tell a different story.

This is the situation on our own farm.

We have a 2,500-gallon tanker with a splash plate on it, which we can handle comfortably with a 120hp tractor.

But if we were to retrofit a dribble bar or trailing shoe attachment to the back, we would probably need to go up to a 150hp tractor.

In itself this seems okay, but what it also means is that instead of a 120hp tractor feeding the cattle every day during the winter, we would now be using a 150hp one, which would be excessive.

Also, as we have our own slurry tank, we can pick and choose the best days for spreading. The other option for us then would be to sell our slurry tanker and hire in a contractor with all the gear to spread our slurry. But then you lose control of the timing of when you can spread, and the slurry might be spread in conditions that are less than ideal. So I suppose there could be a lot of twists and turns on this one yet.

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We got our small pit of silage made a fortnight ago.

This is silage we are planning to use in the next few weeks for the cows before they calve. We let it grow on stronger than normal before cutting. It worked out quite well.

We cut it of a Friday and it was very messy and wet in the butt. We tedded it out the following day. Then it was rowed up and put in the pit on Monday morning. These couple of days corresponded with our heatwave.

Feed value

I think it was the hottest day I was ever on top of a silage pit and I don't know whether there was more heat shining down on us from the sun or reflecting back off the plastic, but it felt like we were the ingredients in a toasted sandwich.

So the grass ended up in the pit extremely dry and very stemmy, exactly what we were looking for - something bulky with little feed value. Obviously, we will add to it a good-quality pre-calving mineral. We would hope to start using it this week.

It will be fed to the cows in the slatted shed. The cows will be allowed access to the feed at night only. They can still go back to the field. We will not be shutting them onto the slats.

We have sorted all the in-calf heifers and cows into two groups: those calving from July 20-September 1 and those calving after September 1. The cows and heifers in the first group were all vaccinated last week with Rotovac Corona. Ideally, this vaccine should be given a month out from calving and it gives three months' protection.

The later-calving cows will be vaccinated in the coming weeks. We also intend to give the early calvers their booster shot for IBR a couple of weeks pre-calving. Usually, we give this post-calving but it has been suggested to me by our vet that the optimum time to give it is a few weeks before calving.

In spite of our mini-heatwave, our grass control and grazing has gone a little haywire but hopefully we will get it back in kilter shortly.

It was mainly due to the heavy rains that fell a few weeks ago, as I believe we got 250pc of our normal June rainfall in these parts.

We had some torrential downpours, with thunder overhead. It came a day after we weaned the calves. So, even though we had lovely grass allocated for them, we had no choice but to keep moving them because the ground was saturated.

On the tillage end of things, I know it is very had to judge it at this stage but, if I was to be pushed on it, I think the spring barley looks to be quite poor, whereas the winter barley looks to have a lot of potential in it and is turning nicely.

I notice the crows and pigeons are starting to show quite a bit of interest in the winter barley, which is a major concern considering the numbers of them that are around at the moment.

We plan to take our second- cut silage this week. It looks to have bulked up well and hopefully that will be sufficient for our winter requirements.

Also, before we start to get busy calving, we would plan to select out all last year's Angus heifers. We'd plan to finish these off grass in the autumn, at around 16 months, so we will introduce a little bit of meal to them in September to ensure we get enough cover on them.

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


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