Holding out for the 'perfect' spreading day is costing some farmers a month's grass growth

Pic Roger Jones.
Pic Roger Jones.
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

There was a simple message for sheep farmers at the first Grass10 walk of the season on Rory O'Donnell's 66ha grassland farm at Clashwilliam, outside Gowran, Co Kilkenny. - don't wait for that elusive 'perfect day' to get the fertiliser spreaders out.

"The temptation with people is to wait until everything is perfect. It is probably going to end up that they wait until the end of March or April for a lovely sunny day. At that stage, you have missed a month's worth of grass growth," warned Teagasc grassland researcher Philip Creighton. "Those days are gone, it is too expensive."

For every 1kg of nitrogen spread in the spring, a response of 10kg DM grass growth is expected.

Philip Creighton said that the 10kg grass DM will feed a ewe with her two lambs for four days. “This is our initial application, but the second application becomes important late March into April as when she moves into peak milk her daily requirement is going to rise to about 3kgDM a day.

“A kilogram of nitrogen will cost, if you are spreading urea, about 81c to €1.04 for CAN. Urea is preferred because it is more stable at this time of year in terms of its stability in the soil and also it is cheaper,” said Philip.

“If we were to feed 100 ewes, yes the fertiliser costs money, but the response we are getting there is going to cost us €20 a day at that level of response to feed the 100 ewes,” he said.

Philip (right) said that if there was a lack of grass, then the diet would have to be supplemented with costly concentrates — with 10kg of feed costing €3.40 on average, it could work out at up to €85 a day to feed 100 ewes. It was four times as expensive to have to rely on concentrates. “That is why we are putting such an emphasis on it,” he said, urging people not to do “anything stupid” but be ready to act.

With soil temperature at 3.5C on the farm, Philip said there would be a reaction once it moved above 5C to 6C.

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Philip pointed out the ground was approaching being trafficable, there was moisture present but the forecast was key. “If they see that frosts are going to abate and temperatures rise again, very quickly at this time of year the soil temperature will come back up again,” he said. 

“Just because it is cold this week doesn’t mean you forget about it, the fertiliser should be ordered and in the yard ready to go, or if you are bulk spreading, ring the contractor and have your name in the books,” he said.

He pointed out that protected urea could also be used as an alternative to CAN later in the grazing system. “That product is starting to come out in much bigger numbers now,” he said.

Terry Carroll said it was priced at about 94c/95c between CAN and urea. “It is 36pc-38pc nitrogen,” he said.

Philip pointed out that protected urea would become more commonplace with an increasing emphasis on the environment.

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