Farm Ireland

Saturday 24 February 2018

Timing key to build covers of grass for autumn

Robin Talbot

The first cut silage is safely in the pit but unfortunately too much of the walls are still exposed. While conditions at harvest were excellent, yield was back. I would estimate the crop was at least 40pc back on normal.

This means that we will have to cut the same area again and, unless the second cut yields well above average, it's looking like we will be very tight on silage for next winter.

Still, it's early days yet.

But we will certainly be taking every opportunity to make round bale silage anywhere there is surplus grass.

For the second cut we spread 2,500 gallons of slurry and then followed this up with 3cwt/ac (375kg/ha) of Cut Sward.

I'd prefer to spread the slurry for the first cut rather than the second cut but that just didn't work out this year.

Normally we'd get our pit silage analysed in the autumn but I am going to do it a lot earlier this year because, if we are going to be short of silage, it's important to know the quality of what we have.

Most of the calves have been weaned at this stage. It's important for these calves to have quality grass in front of them for the season.

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Assuming the bull calves will be housed in the middle of October, they have approximately 120 days grazing in front of them. If we can increase their weight gain by even 0.1kg/day it means they will be 12kg heavier when they are coming into the shed.

This is not an insignificant figure, especially if we can do this just by keeping quality grass in front of them, as these calves will not be getting any meal.

The system we use for the bull calves is quite simple. We graze out the paddocks completely with the dry cows. Then we sub-divide these paddocks with a temporary electric fence and when there is a sufficient cover of leafy grass, we move in the bulls into the smaller divisions and, after a few days grazing, move them onto the next paddock.

We then bring in the in-calf heifers to graze out what they have left, thus ensuring that the bulls always have a good supply of quality grass. In addition, we have a field of new-sown grass almost ready for grazing; the bulls will also get first choice there.


With the improvement in growth and the tightening up the cows after weaning, there is a nice cover of grass starting to build up on the farm so we will probably ease off for a little while on fertiliser spreading.

We need to get our timing right for building up covers of grass for the autumn when the cows are calved.

If we build it up too soon it gets too strong and they walk most of it into the ground. If we leave it too late and the covers are not heavy enough and they graze them off in a few days. Unfortunately, it's only hindsight that will tell if we got it right or not.

The spring barley is looking well at the moment and hopefully has got its main spray; let's hope that's also its final spray.

We have sprayed off two paddocks that were re-seeded two years ago. These were absolutely destroyed last year in the wet conditions and there was nothing for it only to start all over again.

It's coming close to the time now where we need to start focusing on the manage- ment of the cows for the next calving season, which is almost upon us.

As in other years, the first thing we will do is sort the cows into groups by calving date. We have some grass cut with the hope of making hay. But, after last year, if the prospects of getting it as hay are not looking good, we will just go and wrap it.

The stock bulls all got their feet checked and pared as necessary this past week. It's very noticeable how healthy their feet are this year because of the drier conditions.

We also pared some of the cows. This was a job that I'd have to admit that we tended to neglect. If a cow had a long toe, it was often more convenient to cull her than get it treated. But since installing our footbath last year, I have noticed a marked decrease in the amount of lame cows.

So we're hoping that, as the cows are calved and go away to grass, we will leave any animal that needs her feet pared in a separate paddock.

When we have five or six of them together we will get them done.

Robin Talbot farms in partnership with his mother Pam and wife Ann in Ballacolla, Co Laois.

Irish Independent