John Large: Making hay while the sun shines

John Large

John Large

After a very busy few weeks we have saved enough grass for next winter. We made 350 bales of silage, all of excellent quality. We also made about 400 bales of hay.

This was saved with the minimum of effort due to the very dry weather and the dry ground underneath. Most of the hay was fit to bale just five days after being cut and turned twice.

This was yielding from eight to 13 bales per acre. It has been a long time since we made hay of such good quality. Other years we would get caught in poor weather or the grass was left too long growing before it was mowed.

No such problem this year as we were able to cut when the quality was still in the grass. With this good quality forage our winter feed costs can be reduced as we should not need as much meal as last year.

Cutting in these fields also means that they should produce more grass for the remainder of the grazing season. Once the bales of silage were made they were transported back to the yard and stacked before the crows started to attack the plastic.

A tractor with a bale handling unit that can carry two bales is used behind the tractor with a loader carrying one in front. I find that this system is as quick as using a tractor and trailer carrying 15 bales – if the bales are near the yard.


The bales of hay can be left in the field for some time when weather is good. The only downside to the hay is you must have somewhere that is covered for storage. Once we get a change in the weather, slurry and fertiliser will be spread on all fields that were cut. If there is any re-growth in the meantime, we'll just graze it off with the lambs beforehand.

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All ewes are now weaned and the lambs are on aftergrass. The fields that were topped in early June received 25 units of nitrogen. We do not have a lot of quality grass in front of the lambs so we are hoping aftergrass comes on soon. If not, the most forward lambs may have to get some meal.

There is no point in having too many lambs around in September or October when you end up feeding them meal anyway. All lambs were weighed at weaning but I do not have any information back on them yet. More to follow on that next month.

The ewe lambs to be retained for breeding were marked that day as well and will be divided off this week. These were picked using the maternal information collected from their mothers and the ewe lamb's own performance since birth.

This year we hope to keep more of the offspring from rams with high maternal values. The only information I have is on the condition score of the ewes and it confirmed my fear that they are in poor condition.

A lot of ewes scored from 2 up to 2.5, so most of my ewes are under the target condition score of 3 where I like them to be at weaning.

With the very warm weather we plan to shear them as soon as we can and this may help them to put on some weight. We think the wool is causing stress to the ewes as they are spending more time laying down in the shade than eating grass.

John Large is a sheep farmer from Co Tipperary. Email:

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