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Using silage headlands to slow rotations

The countryside has swung into overdrive overnight with the annual race to get the silage done. Some people might consider this a nuisance, but the chorus of machinery from dawn to dusk is music to my ears and a welcome reminder of the enduring vibrancy of the land and its workers.

However, the weather has been quite harsh for the past few weeks and, consequently, the re-growth of fields that were grazed has been poor. And, in spite of the recent rainfall, the ground is extremely hard in this part of the country.

At the moment we are just about OK for grass. But one group of cows has no more than eight days' grazing in front of them unless growth picks up. However, we hope to stretch that out by another few days by using the headlands of the silage fields which we hope to cut this week. We have already made a few bales of silage, from paddocks that we were able to take out of the grazing rotation.

The cover on the silage fields looks to be OK. We always like to make our silage around 72DMD. I think that gives a good balance between quality and bulk. Our silage is cut by contractor but we will shake out the grass ourselves immediately behind the mower. The machine we use is a Claas Volto 770 and it can handle three 10-foot swarthes at a time so it will comfortably do over 10ac/hr at a ground speed of 7km/hour.

These past few weeks we have been repairing potholes on the farm roadways that we will be using to bring in the silage. They had become quite bad over the last few years.

This is a labour intensive and monotonous job, as it consists of shovelling what is known locally as "slig", a type of shale which breaks down well under the wheels of machinery, from the bucket of the loader into the holes, one by one. But I imagine the lads drawing in the silage will be delighted to find the potholes filled.

The spring barley has been sprayed for weeds in conditions that were less than ideal because it was quite windy. However, we had no choice but to spray as the weeds were starting to get quite strong after the recent rains.


The maize has emerged and looks a nice even crop. But we are holding off spraying it for weeds for the moment because the maize plant is extremely delicate and it is already under stress from the harsh winds. I feel that if we sprayed now we would definitely check the growth of the crop.

A problem that has now come to a head (although in honesty I would have to admit that it has been simmering below the surface for a while) is the docility or, more to the point, lack of it, in a batch of 18-month heifers that we are fattening.

These are all heifers that were bred on the farm. While they were a pleasure to handle when they were suckling their mothers, now that they are weaned and out grazing on their own, they have gone wild. At least six of them have discovered that they can easily jump any electric fence they wish. What's really annoying is that I can go out to the field to check them and they will come right up to me, but try to get around behind them to move them towards a gateway and they just take off.

It's just not possible to control them in a paddock system and I am not looking forward to the day when we have to get them into the yard because they have the potential to cause considerable harm to themselves or ourselves.

Looking to the next crop of beef heifers I am thinking of leaving them in the sheds all summer and zero grazing them. I'm told that, when done properly, this works well.

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

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