Farm Ireland

Friday 24 November 2017

Getting grazing plans back on track is my priority now that silage is in the pit

John Heney

Even though the rain has returned again, the recent spell of Mediterranean weather marked the end of a year of miserable conditions which can be best described as the stuff of nightmares.

Suddenly the rural landscape exploded into action with every tractor in the country apparently taking to the roads and the fields.

Those of us lucky enough to have silage to cut were delighted to avail of the opportunity to get it done.

I got mine cut on June 5 and the quality is very good.

The quantity appears to be back on last year, but I certainly won't complain as it's great to have a pit of good silage safely in.

As usual, I left it wilting for 24 hours which I find just right for my grass. A number of years ago when I left it down for a couple of days, the sides of the pit got quite musty. I'm convinced that this was responsible for the loss of a bullock that spring.

The fact that the pit was completely empty when we started to fill it also gave the impression of a lighter cut of silage.

Other years there would have always been a good 10 or 12 feet of silage left over from the previous year to build on.

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I am finding that fields which were grazed very tightly in the spring are slow to recover and still unable to carry full stock. I am also concerned at how my heaviest group of cattle are doing.

Although they are only stocked at about 80pc of normal, they continue to run short of grass before they are due to be changed into the next paddock – that can't be good.

I remain confident, however, that the current mix of rain and sunshine and the availability of after-grass in a few weeks time will eventually get them going.

I let them graze the headlands on the fields cut for silage in order to buy a few extra days for the paddocks to recover, even though I am not convinced that this is a good idea.

It helps to tidy up the headlands, but I feel that it disturbs the cattle unduly and they benefit very little from being forced to eat the strong grass around the fences.

As far as the rest of my farm is concerned, I was able to conserve some paddocks where the lightest and most backward of my cattle were grazing and as a result, they are currently enjoying the best of the grazing conditions.


The downside is that these cattle have a lot of catching up to do after being inside for so long.

Now that I have my first cut of silage safely in, my most immediate challenge is to plan for the rest of the year.

As well as getting my grazing patterns back on track, I must also plan to make up the silage deficit for next winter.

This must be done in the most efficient manner possible as experience has shown that low income cattle systems are not that well equipped to cope with sudden financial shocks.

To start with, I hope to graze all of my silage fields when they recover in order to try and get my cattle thriving properly. I then hope to stop some of these fields in the first half of July for a second cut of silage in late August, but this will depend on conditions.

As far as selling cattle is concerned, I hope to have a load ready for the factory in late August which will be some weeks later than normal.

The alternative would be to start feeding them barley which I'm not that keen to do.

However, I may have little choice in the matter.

And finally, as well as surviving the vagaries of nature, we must now wait for news of the cuts which will be announced as part of the current CAP reform talks.

It makes me realise how strange an enterprise this cattle farming is.

It's a business where you need many attributes to survive – the expertise of a managing director; the skills of a qualified technician; the financial ability of an accountant; the wisdom and patience of a saint; and – if we are to believe the most recent farm income survey – the ability to follow a frugal lifestyle.

John Heney is a beef farmer from Kilfeakle, Co Tipperary. Email:

Irish Independent