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10 Steps to Grass Recovery

25 June 2013

With the arrival of summer, grass growth has rocketed,making this an important time of year to fill your silage clamp and apply appropriate amounts of fertilser, urge Teagasc advisers.

  1. Find the money to grow grass
    YOU CANNOT AFFORD NOT TO SPREAD FERTILISER. Making the most out of the long day length in June and July to grow as much grass as you can is the cheapest way to provide feed for your stock this winter. If you have run up credit with merchants, can you arrange finance from the banks so that you can purchase fertiliser? If this is not an option for you, can you sell one or two stores to get some cash? Prices are low at the moment, but one store could buy you 1.5-2 tonnes (t) of fertiliser. This will buy you enough time to get you to higher mart prices when grass becomes more plentiful.
  2. Close as much silage ground as you can
    This means tightening up grazing ground. Good ground that is well limed and well fertilised with nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) should grow enough grass to carry 1200kg liveweight/acre. Put another way, on good ground, a half acre will carry one suckler cow. The rest of the ground can be closed for silage. If you have wet challenging land, allow 800kg liveweight/acre or you will probably need three-quarters of an acre to carry a suckler cow.
  3. Apply the full allowance of N, P and K on your silage ground
    This is not the year to hold back! In reasonable growing conditions, a crop of silage will use two units/day or 100 units of N in seven weeks. Most silage ground needs 16 units of P and 100 units of K.
  4. Apply over and above your normal N on grazing ground
    Aim to spread 80 units of N from now until the end of July. Ideally this should be spread as 30 units after every grazing. This gives you more opportunities to spread fertiliser. At a conservative response rate of 20:1, an extra half bag of N/acre will produce an extra round bale to be taken off/acre. On 50 acres this is 25 bales or 10 acres of surplus grass for every extra half bag of N. Don’t forget about P and K: spread compound instead of straight N if your soils have poor fertility or are damaged by poaching.
  5. Walk your farm/take out surpluses as they arise
    A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush! Take every fine weather opportunity to take out surpluses as bales. This will also keep grass right on the grazing ground so that cattle have the highest liveweight gains possible.
  6. Do your sums
    How much silage do you need and how much will silage yield? A lot of silage ground has been closed later than normal this year. This means that crops on average will yield less. Research from Grange shows that silage ground closed at the end of April grew 1.4t of grass/acre/week. There are losses to settled silage in the pit and at feeding out in the winter. So about three-quarters of this will make it into the animal’s mouth. This means a silage crop will produce 1t of silage for every week it is closed. A crop closed for seven weeks will produce 7t/acre of silage for feeding this winter.
  7. Consider buying a standing crop of silage
    Decide how much silage is worth to you (at current feed prices it is worth about €40/t) and multiply by the number of tonnes it will yield. So a 7t crop is worth €280/acre all costs included. You need to deduct harvesting/drawing costs from this.
  8. Book straw/arrange catch crops with tillage farmers
    Demand for straw is likely to be greater than supply, so book your straw now. If you live in a tillage area, a catch crop of rape sown after a winter crop could carry some stock.
  9. Sell some stock
    If you can’t buy enough fodder to make up the gap, you will have to sell some stock. Try to plan this as best you can so that you are not simply off-loading cattle when prices could potentially be low. There has never been a better time to cut the bull! Do not extend your breeding season this year. Cows should be scanned after breeding and those not in calf should be given the boot. These cows could be fattened off grass cheaply this summer and by selling them you are reducing the winter feed demand. One cow could consume 10 bales of silage for the winter, so selling five cull cows could save 50 bales.
  10. Plan to feed extra meal if required
    If you have at least 50% of your silage requirements, you can feed your cattle by feeding extra meal. It means you will have to ration out silage to make it last. Some farmers will be all too aware of how to work this system. It is hard work but at least you know you can do it. If you have no experience of this system, get information now from your adviser as to how to do this.

Calculating Feed Demand on Your Farm

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