Farm Ireland

Thursday 19 April 2018

Great late flush of grass, despite onset of winter nights

John Heney

Now that the clocks have gone back and winter has officially arrived, I'm probably not alone in my dislike for the shortening days and dark November evenings. The transition has been more obvious this year than others as we have just come to the end of a spell of uniquely mild weather.

A combination of increasing moisture and unusually mild weather has enveloped Ireland in an unseasonable late October mantle of rich green, with most trees also managing to retain their green foliage.

This extended growing season was most welcome and it has certainly compensated in some way for the harsh weather last spring. However it appears to have had very little effect on the performance of my older cattle because the feeding value of this late grass has been most disappointing.

Coming after 2012, which had a brilliant spring and, in my case, a good growing summer, 2013 was always going to struggle to repeat the performance. No one could have foreseen this year's disastrous spring; the stark reality for me was that after three of the best thriving months were taken out of the year, my cattle were always going to be in trouble.

In farming there are always going to be ups and downs and I was lucky that last autumn my stores were about 15kg heavier than they would usually be.

Speaking of issues which affect farming, I was delighted to see that the long overdue environmental analysis of the Food Harvest 2020 Report has made an appearance in the form of a discussion document. However on closer examination, there are several things about the publishing of this report which are quite peculiar.


I'm sure its release the day before the start of the high profile National Ploughing Championships was not deliberate. Unfortunately, the timing did succeed in rendering this critically important public document virtually invisible.

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To add to the confusion, this 270-page report is only available online. To make things even more difficult, it took me an age to find out that 170-page appendices and annex have been published as another separate document.

No explanation has been made as to why printed copies of what is flagged as a discussion document are not available. It would appear that if you don't have a computer and a printer capable of printing off and binding the 440 pages of this report, it's tough luck.

When you combine these factors, any reasonable person would agree that this is a very strange way to generate broad constructive discussion on any document, never mind such an important one as this.

Back on my farm, the work goes on. Most of my finisher cattle have been sold and I'm down to a couple of loads at this stage. As well as concentrating on selling finished cattle and replacing them with stores, other farming chores have to be looked after. I was lucky to get my slurry spread before the heavy rain arrived. The mild weather combined with the rain has resulted in spectacular late growth in these fields, ensuring a very good take up of the nutrients contained in the slurry.

In spite of all the recent heavy rain, the ground seems to be holding up well. My store cattle appear to be quite happy on the late grass and it would be a great boost to my supply of silage if they could be kept out for a few extra weeks.

I'm also carrying out some remedial work on my cattle shed to improve access for slurry agitating and emptying equipment. This involved removing walls and replacing them with gates, and replacing damaged slats.

All that is left to do is to fill in around the new slats and sheet the gates. Hopefully this improved access to the slurry tanks will make the job of agitating and spreading slurry next February that bit easier.

Finally, could I appeal to everyone to check their lights on cars and tractors. Unfortunately badly lit vehicles are still too common on our country roads.

John Heney farms at Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary. Email:

Irish Independent