Farm Ireland

Thursday 23 November 2017

Why it's all about quality over quantity for this farmer with his first cut of silage

A greater emphasis on making high quality silage would pay huge dividends
A greater emphasis on making high quality silage would pay huge dividends
Antoinette Uí Cheallaigh and her daughters Niamh and Bridget Ní Cheallaigh from Killure, Ahascragh, Ballinasloe, Co. Galway meet Ned the Donkey at the Kepak All Ireland and International Sheep Shearing championships in Kiltoom, Co Roscommon. Picture: Ger Rogers/HR Photo.

Robin Talbot

We took our first-cut silage on May 10, our earliest ever date for a first cut.

The reason we cut it so early is that I walked all the silage fields one afternoon and I felt that some of the fields were borderline of heading into drought conditions. If the weather continued hot and dry as it was the crop would actually shrink. So we mowed it down, tedded it out and picked it up the next day.

While the tonnage is back significantly, I would be very disappointed if the quality is not excellent. As in all things, there should be balance. If the tonnage is back but the quality is up, that's ok.

Looking back on the diets we used for the suckler cows last winter, when they were getting second cut silage of 70 DMD, they were getting 42kg/head but when we moved over to first cut of 77 DMD, they were only getting 28kg/head.

If you were to put that over the entire winter, that is a saving of around 400 tonnes of silage for us. Obviously we add in extra straw to the diet when we are using the better silage.

We no sooner had the silage in the pit and covered when the weather broke. This gave us a great opportunity to cover all the silage ground with 2,500 gallons slurry per acre. We followed this up a week later with three bags per acre of Cut Sward.

We still have 14 acres of first-cut silage to cut that we are allowing to grow on quite strong. This will be fed to the cows pre-calving, instead of hay, which is what we would usually have fed them.

Looking at the second-cut at the moment, its really powering ahead. So hopefully we will be looking at cutting that in the first week of July.

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With our autumn-calving system, it suits us better, and makes grass easier to manage, to let up a bigger acreage for second- cut than we would take for first-cut.

As we wean our calves, our demand for grass drops considerably, as we would graze the cows a lot tighter post-weaning.

So, some fields that have been grazed up to now have been manured and we will take silage off them later on.

We would usually wean the strong bull calves first and let the cows rearing the heifer calves run on for another little while but we have taken the decision to wean everything over the course of this week.

The reason for that slight change is that, as a result of the break in the weather, we have some lovely fresh grass coming available to graze. It's ideal for the weanlings but it would be unnecessary for the cows, at this point in their pregnancy and lactation.

I injected the in-calf heifers a few weeks ago for hoose and worms. I always think it's a good time to assess their docility, as they are going through the crush and you are sticking a needle in them.

I was very satisfied with their temperament with the exception of one heifer, which was a bit nervous. We took a note of her and will see what she is like when she calves. If she is still a bit nervous, she will be allowed to rear her calf but she won't be re-bred.

As they exited the crush, it was very noticeable that they are all springing nicely. The earliest of them would be six weeks out from calving.

We would plan to park up the fertiliser spreader for a little while now. We will bring it out again in the middle of July where the practice would be to blanket spread the entire grazing area, to build up a cover of grass for the freshly-calved cows.

In the meantime, we need to make about 40 quality round bales of silage, which could be fed to the young bulls when they come into the shed for fattening in September.

We also need to make about 100 bales of silage for the maiden heifers, which will be wintered on an out-farm until around the end of the year, at which time there will be enough of the under-16 month bulls gone to have room in the shed to bring them home .

This week, we have one of the most important meetings of the year. This is when our vet calls out to the farm and we will do a thorough review of our vaccination programme and herd health programme for the previous 12 months. We will discuss any health issues or concerns we have, and tweak what we are doing if necessary.

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

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