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Dermot Heaney: Trying to work out issues with grass supply and quality

I have spread a good deal of lime in the last weeks on paddocks that are low in pH and won’t be cut for silage later

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Concern: Dermot checking out his grass

Concern: Dermot checking out his grass

Cattle on Dermot’s Meath farm

Cattle on Dermot’s Meath farm

Dermot in his yard

Dermot in his yard

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Concern: Dermot checking out his grass

Managing the grass has been a bit of a challenge over the last month. We have had grass supply and grass quality issues. That’s a common problem across the area.

I have been feeding some baled silage to fill a deficit. Growth rate is a little low at 58kgDM/ha, with a demand of 45kgDM/ha. Grass has become a bit stemmy and I am doing some pre-mowing.

I walked the farm with my advisor Owen a few weeks ago and the paddocks weren’t looking the best and I am not sure why. I am wondering is the 1 unit per day a little low but Owen doesn’t think so. It could just be a moisture deficit.

Owen has noticed the same problem in farms across the region, even where a heavier nitrogen rate is being applied. I confess that I upped the rate of N a little in the last round to 25 units, instead of 20 units but it’s hard to know if it has made any difference.

I am blanket-spreading once every three weeks. I am trying to move to once a week, but labour is an issue. 

My rotation length got a bit short so that was affecting recovery of paddocks. I went into a little bit of a tail spin! I have put in the silage to slow that down a little.

For me the main thing to do now is to keep the quality in the grass — maintain pre-grazing covers at 1,400 kgDM/ha, take out surpluses as they arise and take them quickly.

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Cattle on Dermot’s Meath farm

Cattle on Dermot’s Meath farm

Cattle on Dermot’s Meath farm

I reseeded some paddocks on April 27 and included red and white clover. These paddocks were sprayed a little late as I couldn’t get the CloverMax.

So I am grazing covers of 1,800kgDM/ha now. That’s too high for clover. Ideally I should have been grazing them at 800-1,000kgDM/ha.

There was not a lot I could do about it but I will be keeping a close eye on those paddocks for the remainder of the summer so they don’t get over-heavy again.

Light needs to get into the base of the sward to get the clover seed established, so I need to be grazing lower covers.

The over-sown paddocks are not looking great and the clover is struggling. Over-sowing can be a bit hit and miss.

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Dermot in his yard

Dermot in his yard

Dermot in his yard

These paddocks were old swards and very dense, so not ideal for oversowing. I think you need more open swards for oversowing to give the clover a chance.

I have the first cut done and I was delighted to get it in the last weekend in May, just before the weather broke. I am happy with the yield and quality.

Having done the fodder budget, allowing for a one-month reserve, I have up to 70pc of my silage conserved between first cut and the surplus bales I have taken out.

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I planted a new hedge in February/March. I have cleaned around the base to give the whitethorn a better chance.

It was done in a bit of a rush — perhaps I should have put down Mypex beforehand to keep it cleaner. But it’s looking fine.

I have spread a good deal of lime in the last weeks on paddocks that are low in pH and won’t be cut for silage later.

I spread lime when I can. I don’t like waiting till the autumn when weather conditions might not allow it.

It’s a good investment this year with fertiliser at the price it is.

Dermot Heaney farms at Kilberry, Navan, Co Meath


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