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Tuesday 16 October 2018

It's the first time in 30 years I didn't get cows to grass in March

Gerard Sherlock with Dermot Sherry from the '3D' discussion group in Monaghan. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Gerard Sherlock with Dermot Sherry from the '3D' discussion group in Monaghan. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Spring grazing plans have gone out the window
Gerard Sherlock

Gerard Sherlock

If there was ever a time that farmers needed sunshine it is now. I hope that when you are reading this the sun is shining and the rain has stopped. Over the past month, the weather just seemed to get worse by the day. The heavy flooding around three weeks ago put ground conditions really back.

I walked the cow paddocks last week and farm grass cover is 849. Grass growth over the last few weeks measured 7kgDM/ha/day. This should be at least 30+ for this time of year.

In my 30 years of dairy farming, I reckon it's the first year I never got a cow to grass in February or March. I'm hoping to get the 70 cows out to the fields this week.

I spread around 40 units/ac of Urea on the entire milking platform on March 22 and more is due to go out immediately. The target is 100 units/ac by May 1.

Another target is to have 50pc of the P requirement spread by May 1. I will probably spread 18-6-12 or pasture sward next time.

Slurry was spread on all of the silage ground on March 19. The contractor used the pipe system. The following morning I heard one of the sweetest sounds imaginable for a farmer this year - the sound of dung dropping into empty tanks.

Sometimes it doesn't take much to put a smile on a farmer's face but this sound put a smile on mine.

As I write, I haven't spread any fertiliser on the silage ground. I will as soon as the ground will allow me. I will have to be careful to calculate the correct spreading rate because in six weeks it should be silage cutting time.

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The six soil sample results from the silage and grazing fields came back. Five of them had an index 4 or 3 for P. There was one at index 1.

This sample represented 10 acres of rented grazing. They were all at index 3 for K. Overall, they have improved since they were sampled five years ago.

On the lime, pH values were between 5.5 and 7.2. The one at 5.5 represented four acres and requires about 3.5 t/acre. The pH of 7.2, which is slightly high, was from a field that was reseeded last year and got lime.

Cows are presently producing 25litres at 4.13pc butterfat, 3.10pc protein giving 1.9kg MS/cow/day, TBC 5000, SCC 54, Therm 100 and Lactose 4.76pc. Cows are getting 6kgs of a 21pc protein nut. They are also getting 2kgs each of beet pulp nuts mixed in the silage. All my 2017 silage was finished two weeks ago.

I am now using silage made in 2016 and indeed 2015 as far as I can remember. I reckon I should have enough silage to last until May 1. I haven't bought any forage feed yet.

Breeding season

The breeding season will be starting here shortly.

Cows and heifers are showing plenty of heats with heat dates being recorded.

I believe it will be a challenging breeding season as cows will only be settling into grass in their diet when they are being asked to go back in calf.

I have selected a team of seven bulls - FR2236, FR2239, FR 2297, FR2460, WWT, LWR, FR2298. Their weighted averages are EBI €262 with €98 for milk and €116 for fertility, 132kgs milk, fat and protein 30.4kg. I am also switching to the AI service and not DIY to see can I improve conceptions.

There are about 14 more cows to calve. Since last month I had another caesarean birth on a heifer. Thankfully all went well and a large red Hereford bull calf was born.

I had one milk fever case that was easily treated. There have been no major outbreaks of calf scour yet, but as this is the time for it. I am keeping a close eye on the younger calves.

Calf pens and calving pens have been cleaned out and disinfected. Demand has gone slow for the Angus and Hereford calves in recent weeks. Cull cow prices are still very strong.

I sold five lately and they averaged €1.33/kg. I did manage to get a group of the younger weanling heifers out to grass. They were out for two weeks and had to come back in as it got too wet.

Finally, there is a lot of stress and anxiety among farmers out there. Remember that we are all in the same boat.

We need good weather, good grass growth and a stable milk price. These are the three key ingredients for a "profitable and happy dairy farmer".

This was a phrase I picked up on at the recent Ballyhaise College open day. Unfortunately, the ingredients are hard to find right now!

Gerard Sherlock farms at Tydavnet, Co Monaghan

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