Farm Ireland

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Early grazing looks like just a pipe dream this year -- there's no grass around

Oliver McDonnell

As I look out of the window this morning to see the countryside covered with a blanket of snow, I'm thinking it is often the simplest of things that give us the most pleasure and joy. If we stop for a moment, we can relish the calming effect of the white scene before us.

I experienced another lovely moment last week. I walked into Laurence's yard early one morning during the school mid-term break to be met with two of our grandchildren, Lorcan and Ann, coming with two bottles of milk to feed a couple of small calves, who were proving difficult to train.

Despite the early hour, there was great banter between these two children as they competed with each other to finish first. And their job didn't stop with feeding the calves. They then bedded them, and made sure they were warm and comfortable before going back indoors for breakfast.

It was a nostalgic moment, as I remembered their dad Laurence and, indeed, all his brothers display the same enthusiasm as young children. It is so nice to see this carried forward to a new generation.

Anyway, we're now into March and there is no growth whatsoever. Sub-zero temperatures continue almost every night, with very little rise during the daytime. It looks like early grazing across the board will be little more than a pipe dream this year.

The autumn calvers, who were allowed out to graze for a couple of hours daily three weeks ago, are now back inside again because there is no growth behind them. But their short sojourn outdoors served its purpose.

The change did help to get them all actively cycling again and the two breeding bulls were extremely busy accommodating them.

Hopefully, they are all now back in calf, albeit at least three months behind schedule.

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The second positive outcome of these cows grazing outdoors was that they ate down a few paddocks on which too much grass remained uneaten over the winter months.

This situation arose because the weather broke so badly during the last week in October and all stock had to be brought indoors.

Under normal circumstances, the dry cows would have remained outdoors to clean up whatever paddocks might have had a covering of grass.

But now grass seems to have vanished. Even on the out farm, where normal practice would dictate that the weanlings could be allowed out to graze by mid-March, I don't think it will happen this year. There simply is no grass and no growth.

The year has all the signs of becoming a very late one. Indeed, I was out spreading slurry on some grazing ground last week, such is the deficit of grass on fields.

Looking at the late-sown winter wheat, and here I'm talking about that which was sown during the third week in October, I have to admit to being somewhat worried about growth and performance levels.

It looks to be considerably behind that which was sown earlier and, again, I can only attribute this to the November flooding and the sub-zero temperatures prevailing since.

It is to be hoped that it will all catch up whenever weather conditions improve.

We have finally finished sowing the headlands in the last couple of fields -- a job which, again, was delayed because of unsuitable weather and soil conditions.

We still have some spring barley to sow and while the ground for this has already been ploughed, we are in two minds as to whether or not we will sow the crop. All the price projections are against growing spring barley when taken into consideration the costs of doing so.

And then we have the ongoing problem of the dumping of grain into our country as shiploads arrive regularly at our ports. Anyway, we'll make up our minds on this over the coming days.

The one positive aspect of the ground being ploughed up these past few weeks is the beneficial effects of the frost on the soil. Frost is breaking up the soil nicely, which, in turn, will leave tilling so much easier.

This, again, just proves the bureaucrats so wrong with their nonsensical regulations. Farmers have been ploughing land for nigh on 100 years and leaving the winter weather to do its own job on the soil.

To date, the purchase and application of fertiliser has not been an issue on most farms, because of the very cold weather, but now that March has arrived, it is time to do some research on prices and see about getting in supplies.

From the few phone calls I have made recently there would seem to be quite a wide diversity on prices. It is important not to be complacent but rather to shop around for the best price available.

Slurry spreading on the maize ground is ongoing whenever weather conditions permit. A maize crop is a great user of slurry and, indeed, slurry applications to land targeted for maize growing is essential.

This job has been completed on about half the maize ground, and this land has also been ploughed so that the slurry nutrients can be fully absorbed into the soil.

Irish Independent