Can understocked farms provide a fodder solution?

Tractor drawing bales in the sunshine. Stock image.
Tractor drawing bales in the sunshine. Stock image.
Conor Lehane from Timoleague, Cork with the Champion Heifer in Milk winner, “Mass Rock S 1038 Irene”, accepting the cup from Pat Hayes and Alison Perrott, judge at Barryroe Agricultural Show, Co Cork. Picture Denis Boyle

Our best laid plans have gone awry twice so far this year.

This year we put our fertiliser plans in place to increase the amount of spring grass grown on the milking platform by April 1.

To achieve this target we applied extra phosphorous in early February and then increased the amount of nitrogen to 100 units spread per acre by early April.

However, because of the weather this spring, we did not even match last year’s spring grass growth and only grew 700 kg/dm/ha. When combined with the very poor growth in April, the knock-on effect was that we had to use a lot of our pit silage reserve.

We then made a new plan in early June that we would apply more fertiliser to the silage ground on the out-farms to increase the amount of second cut bales and rebuild the reserves. All that is pie in the sky at the moment as we battle the drought.

We are still expecting the rain to come and when it does the fertiliser will be out and the growth should be massive.

We would also hope for a good back end and ground conditions to allow us utilise all the late grass growth.

While our grass planning has not worked out as hoped for to date this year we will continue.

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Our discussion group is coming together this week for a night meeting with a nutritionist to analyse the group’s current situation and our winter feed options.

To assist with this, our Teagasc advisor has circulated a winter feed requirement document and calculator to assess each farm’s current reserves and identify the shortfall. Based on the results we will look for solutions to avoid deficits next spring.

At present there are a number of indisputable facts. Winter feed reserves from previous years are pretty much wiped out.

As on most well-stocked milking platforms, we need to be building farm cover from early August so that looks to be a challenge now meaning no surplus will be grown. Native grain production will be down on normal years with a lot of it already spoken for. No doubt there will be more imported grain as forage stretchers, but could there be cheaper local solutions?

Can we ask understocked farms for second cut land or a winterage and fertilise option.

Outfarms may provide an option for many farmers. Can they be fertilised stronger than normal when the rain returns?

Could we harvest a good quality crop before the end of August and then fertilise again immediately?

This year ground conditions could remain drier than normal which would allow late grazing to proceed which would in turn delay housing and the opening of silage pits.

We have been doing this for years but for it to work the ground must be cleaned in August and well fertilised immediately.

The best growth will be got from August fertiliser with a rapid drop off in September. The seasons are different this year and September/October could be two great grass growing months. Should we plan that they will be?


The milking platform is almost completely brown as incredibly we have now gone six weeks with just one day’s rain from Storm Hector.

Growth was below 10kg/dm/ha for the last two weeks and the average farm cover is 299 kgs or 80kgs per cow. We are trying to maintain a 25-day rotation but really now it is all about supplementation.

Currently the cows are giving 19.7 litres at 4.6pc fat and 3.55pc protein or 1.65 kg/ms/day. The protein is very low but they are only getting about 3kg/dm/day of grazed grass and 2kg/dm of zero-grazed second cut silage grass which is now finished. This is supplemented with 5kg of round bale silage cut from the milking platform earlier in the summer and 6kg of ration.

We bought a load of palm kernal last week which we are feeding ad-lib from a builders trailer in the field. While they were slow to take to it they are now eating about 2kg/hd/daily on average but I do not know if every cow is taking it.

With the meal we struggled for water during the real heat, especially just after milking so I took a pipe directly from the plate cooler and let it flow unrestricted into the first water tank the cows passed after milking and this satisfied them immediately.

Henry and Patricia Walsh farm in Oranmore, Co Galway, along with their son, Enda, and neighbour and out-farm owner John Moran

Indo Farming

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