John Joyce: Hard times call for hard measures on the fodder front

John Joyce farms at Carrigahorig, Nenagh, Co Tipperary. Stock image. REUTERS/Toby Melville
John Joyce farms at Carrigahorig, Nenagh, Co Tipperary. Stock image. REUTERS/Toby Melville
The Farming Independent's roving reporter Siobhan English spotted this heifer in distress near the Sally Gap in Co Wicklow last week. She managed to reverse herself out of trouble before there was any need to call for further assistance
John Joyce

John Joyce

The battle with the weather and other issues continues but I am determined the year will not get the better of me.

With very little rain for the last two weeks, I have had no option but to introduce round bale silage for the cows. The grass just hasn't grown and as a result they started getting very unsettled.

I held out for as long as possible before feeding them silage, as I didn't want to start using valuable winter feed. One batch is getting one bale a day and another group will soon require feed if grass growth doesn't take off.

This level of silage feeding so early in the year is not sustainable so my next option is to fence and graze a wet area by the edge of a bog, a part of the farm that has never been used before. Hard times call for tough measures.

I have noticed when herding the cows that a higher number than usual are repeating. Most of them are cows that lost some condition during the hot weather, but a few extra cows not in calf is the least of my worries.

There will be no records broken with the weight of the weanlings this year and observing them over the last few days some of them look very light. I will probably have to introduce creep feed to them soon to help them along.

Two weeks ago I spread seven tonnes of Sulpha CAN on all the land available for grazing. This was the first fertiliser spread for a while. I thought there was little point in spreading until we got a few showers.

The ground, while still very dry and barren, is just starting to recover its green look, but it's going to be a long time before grass gets ahead for the rest of the year.

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We also spread 60,000 gallons of well agitated slurry with extra water added to the mix in the hope it wouldn't stick to the ground and cake. All the slurry has been spread on the silage ground and all tanks in the sheds have been emptied to the floor at this stage. All areas of the farm have now been well fertilised so I am hoping this should be sufficient if and when we get enough rain for growing conditions to recommence. I don't intend spending much more on fertiliser for the rest of the year.

On the daily rounds of herding over the past few weeks I have also noticed the fencing has taken a fierce pounding over the summer.

Strainers have become loose in the ground, while stakes have dried out and broken off at the butt. There has been a lot more pressure on the fences with stock under stress grazing tight and under them.

Areas around the water troughs have also been disturbed. It will take time and a few euros to get them right again.

After having a quick glance at stock numbers, I have earmarked what animals can be pushed on and finished with meal in next few weeks.

I have picked out 20 cattle which include heifers, bullocks and some cull cows. I have started them on 3kgs of meal and will increase as required. I hope to have them factory fit between six and eight weeks. They probably wouldn't be over-heavy, but I am looking ahead to next winter already as regards feed and space availability.

On the subject of winter feed, I estimate I have approximately 80pc of the forage required for a five-month winter - this is counting silage, hay and straw. A six-month winter is more likely so I still have a probable fodder shortfall. A small amount of land is closed for a second cut and purchasing some bales and grain has recently become an option.

John Joyce farms at Carrigahorig, Nenagh, Co Tipperary

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