Farm Ireland

Monday 18 December 2017

Making the most of mixed grassland

Seamus Quigley surveys one of the areas where water was trapped until he cut tracks with the mole plough
Seamus Quigley surveys one of the areas where water was trapped until he cut tracks with the mole plough
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

A picture tells a thousand words, as they say. This 195hp tractor got stuck while tilling ground for reseeding on Seamus Quigley's dairy farm in Galway last week.

Despite spending €10,000 on drainage work over the last number of months, Mr Quigley knows that he is not finished spending yet if he is to avoid sights like this occurring in his fields.

"We started cleaning out drains back in March because we got a really dry spell, and with the way the weather went in the summer last year, we were worried about leaving it any later in the year. If I didn't get these pastures up to speed, it was going to break us," said Mr Quigley.

The Nenagh man is well known in dairying circles, having built from scratch a 500-cow herd that is now milked on the 500ac Ballydugan estate near Loughrea in south Galway.

More recently, he formed a partnership with former Holstein breeder, Noel Kelly in Athenry where he has started to milk another herd of cows.

Despite having more than 500 map acres on the wooded estate, Mr Quigley is currently able to graze just under 400ac of them.

"This is a great block of land and we're lucky to be in here, but there are large parts of the farm that are very difficult, despite all the work that we've done so far," he said.

The farm is still a work in progress, and with a stocking rate of more than four cows per hectare on the milking platform, Mr Quigley's immediate focus this year has been to get his paddocks producing lots of top quality grass.

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"We measure grass religiously every week during the main grazing season. Sometimes even twice a week at this time of the year. For example, we reckoned at the start of this week we were growing about 75kg dry matter (DM) per hectare daily, but another run around today has revealed that that has jumped to 100kg per day with the increase in temperatures and sunshine," he explains.

Mr Quigley has been using the Agrinet grass-measuring programme since 2010. It shows that grass production actually dropped from 12t/ha in 2010 to 10.1t/ha in 2012. Mr Quigley believes that a number of under-performing paddocks which he was unable to graze or even fertilise properly last year are the culprits.

"I can see from the records that I've got three paddocks that all produced less than 6.5t DM/ha last year. Compare that with the output of my best paddocks, which is 13.5t/ha. It's a colossal difference," he said.

The revamp of the paddocks involves both drainage and reseeding work. But in a year when cash-flow is so tight, how does Mr Quigley justify such a significant outlay?

"The maths is actually quite simple," he explains.

"Teagasc tell us that every extra tonne of grass is worth €200/t. I reckon that reseeding is costing me about €750/ac and I've spent another €200/ac on drainage work. Even if I get only 75pc of the output of my best paddocks, that's an extra €600/ac of feed annually. In addition, the feed that you get will be of a higher quality.

"Any investment that has paid for itself after two years has to be a good one."

Irish Independent