Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 March 2018

Paddocks inaccessible as weather plays havoc

Denis Minogue

The unsettled weather conditions have challenged, and continue to challenge, many farmers over the last few months.

The Derrypatrick Herd have certainly not escaped these challenges. After the wettest June on record, we were hopeful that July would bring some manageable conditions in terms of our grazing capabilities. However weather conditions for the first two weeks of July have done little to ease our concerns.

Currently, water is lying on a number of paddocks, rendering them inaccessible for the short term. In addition, poor grass growth was recorded for this week (20kg DM/ha) which limits our grazing capabilities even further.

If these conditions continue, there is a possibility that cows and calves may have to be housed for a period of time, in order to replenish grass supplies and allow improvement of ground conditions.

Thankfully, the breeding season concluded on July 6, after 12 weeks. The housing of cows and calves during the breeding season this year would have been a very unwelcome development.

Increased rainfall has meant that we are not grazing as tightly in paddocks in order to prevent any damage to the sward. This, in turn, is affecting our capability to maintain quality pasture in front of stock.

The main limitations for this year have been heavy sporadic downpours that greatly affect ground conditions in a relatively short space of time.

The Grange soil type, comprising heavy clay throughout, renders it almost impossible to limit any pasture damage in these conditions. Weather conditions have also limited fertiliser application for the short term. Our ability to top paddocks is also quite limited.

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Anybody who attended the Grange open day in 2011 (June 15) will remember the ground conditions present after little or no rainfall for over the previous two months, which is in stark contrast to our current conditions.

Despite a shortfall in grass growth last year, grazing conditions were ideal. Two weeks following last year's open day, we were removing surplus feed from the grazing platform in the form of baled silage.

The autumn brought ideal grass growing conditions, which allowed for the removal of 25 acres for reseeding (13pc of the total farm area).

A large portion of the Derrypatrick block consists of old permanent pasture. Therefore, this was a welcome shift towards more productive perennial rye-grass pastures for 2012.

These reseeded areas showed a strong response in the early part of this year. Unfortunately, a portion of these have taken quite a hit in the bad weather.

In an ideal scenario, we would try to reseed a portion of the farm at this time of year. The first grazing of this reseeded area would have been allocated to the weaned calves in the autumn (weather conditions permitting).

Unfortunately, this year is proving to be largely focused on the subject of damage limitation, rather than maintaining performance for the duration of the season.

However, if weather conditions improve, then we will definitely consider reseeding a small area of the grazing block.

This may be coupled with over-sowing grass seed, on a number of paddocks, in order to increase overall sward density. We are hopeful that conditions will improve in the autumn, as our feed demand continues to increase as the year progresses. I think farming, in general, is due a bit of respite in the autumn.

Management details

nOverall the farm stocking rate is 2.8LU ha, which includes 99 cows and calves, 45 heifers, 60 bulls and 25 replacements. This figure also includes five stock bulls.

nStocking rate on the grazing platform at present is at 4.11 LU ha which includes 99 cows and calves, 45 yearling heifers and 25 replacements.

nStock bulls were removed from breeding groups (cows and heifers) on Friday, July 6 after a 12-week breeding season. Scanning of cows and heifers will take place in mid August.

nYearling bulls are currently being offered concentrate ad-libitum, plus 5kg of silage per head per day. The mix comprises of 87pc rolled barley, 6pc soya, 6pc molasses and 1pc minerals.

nSoil conditions for grazing are quite poor. Water is collecting in areas of a number of paddocks, which is alarming for this time of year. Wet weather forecasted for the rest of the week will undoubtedly hinder grazing management.

nPost grazing heights are being increased in an effort to minimise damage from poaching. The removal of paddocks for baled silage will not follow because of the poor ground and weather conditions. Fertiliser application and topping of paddocks has also ceased for the time being.

Denis Minogue is in charge of the Derrypatrick Herd at Teagasc, Grange, Co Meath. Email:

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