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Tuesday 11 December 2018

Henry Walsh: Our grass growth has been exceptional over the last month

Henry Walsh

Henry Walsh

September is progressing along within average or normal parameters on our farm in Oranmore.

The pattern has been one of broken weather, rain most days, occasional sunny periods, solid growth and good ground conditions. Some Septembers we would hope for a little better, but not his year.

This year I am happy with normal and no extremes. Grass growth has been exceptional throughout the month of August and is now coasting along with an average of 55 kg/DM grown per day over the last two weeks.

We applied 1.5 bags of 18/6/12 (27 units) on July 22 before the drought broke.

We backed off on fertiliser then and spread nothing until September 1 - that is 42 days with no Nitrogen applied on the milking platform. While this was completely out of character for me, there was reasoning behind the action. We have been taking grass samples within our discussion group which Aurivo then test. The samples for a few weeks in August showed incredibly high free nitrates present in the fresh grass.

This was probably coming from background nitrogen being released by the soil after the drought broke.

Perhaps it is something worth keeping a check on where farms are only now exiting the drought.

The temptation will be to apply heavy nitrogen to maximise grass growth until the end of the grazing season and the two combined could lead to excessive nitrate levels in the grass.

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The samples also showed very high protein in the grass but most clear of all was the very low dry matter as a result of wet weather and very rapid growth with average dry matter between 10.9pc and 12pc for three weeks in a row.

Milk solids' production improved well once the growth came and cows had a full bite with protein now at normal September levels.

At present cows are milking 18 litres at 4.8pc fat and 3.85pc protein or 1.6 kg/MS/daily on 3kg meal.

Growth has dropped to 52 kg/day as the nitrogen reserves are depleted in the soil. Average farm cover of 960kg/DM/ha has remained the same as last week at 256 per cow.

We pre-cut and grazed two paddocks identified for bales to maintain farm cover. While we achieved that target, it has cost me on milk as the cows dropped over a litre because it was too strong, measuring 2700 kg/DM/ha and would have been taken out a week earlier if weather allowed.

Up to August 31, we have sold 314kg/MS and fed 620kg meal.

The second cut silage also tested high on nitrogen and was low on dry matter and sugars, a very bad combination in broken weather.

Even though it is one of my non-negotiables that the silage ground must be cleared in August to start building grass, winter feed is so important this year - as is the need to avoid making poor silage - we decided to delay a bit into September. The ground is still warm and reasonably dry so hopefully we will get away with it.

After cutting, all fields will get 35 units + mostly of 18/6/12 and or urea. I have also bought straight potash (K) and will apply about 70 units per acre. While we are down about 400 bales of silage on last year, even after doing the second cut later, I am hopeful we will have enough feed.

This time last year our soils were waterlogged, growing less and surely the spring of 2019 will be kinder than the spring of 2018.

Most farmers will feed more meal this winter to stretch the available silage.

Feed budgets

However, meal is increasing significantly in price so either way it is going to be an expensive winter. Silage will command a premium and hopefully there will be adequate supplies around at a reasonable cost.

A feed budget will be very important to help farmers estimate the requirement versus what is in the yard.

While a lot of farmers will have deficits, many will also have enough but worry that they are short because the topic is everywhere so a budget will bring clarity.

We have yet to scan, but when we do to reduce grass demand all empty cows will be housed on good silage plus 6kg of meal and milked once a day till December by which time they will hopefully be warm enough to go straight to the factory.

Henry and Patricia Walsh farm in Oranmore, Co Galway, along with their son, Enda, and neighbour and out-farm owner John Moran

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