Looks like 2012-2013 winter all over again
Easterly winds last week brought a welcome drying of the land, but were followed by deluges that undid the benefits of drying winds. Dairy stock in particular are beginning to be turned out to grab a bit of grass in between the showers, but we are a long way from full time turn-out.
The softness of the land is just one issue to contend with, the more worrying issue is that grass swards are light, regrowth is near non-existent, and opportunities to spread fertiliser are very limited. In any event, soil temperatures are still low, generally below the magic seven degrees needed for growth, according to Met Eireann’s meteorology data for last week. However, these temperatures have improved this week, to between 6.4 and 9.2 degrees across the country. The extended forecast has night time temperatures to remain marginally above freezing, and with no sign of milder nights, realistically, it will be some time before growth gets going properly. Growth increases rapidly with each degree of temperature change moving up from 7 to 13 degrees; cold nights therefore have a big bearing on grass growth. Teagasc’s Pasturebase website reveals current growth rates are in single digits right across the country, with demand outstripping demand by many multiples.
The fodder crisis of the winter of 2012/2013 is still well remembered by many farmers, and the current weather pattern and more particularly the lack of growth is beginning to look similar. That winter period was one of the longest on record, with soil temperatures for April 2013 remaining stubbornly low, and biting winds, with grass growth stalled. Fodder was imported from the UK and France, with coops and marts across the country mobilised to organise fodder shipments.
The lessons learned from that time should be recalled: Calculate the quantity of fodder stocks remaining; be it the number of silage bales left in the heap, or the volume of silage left in the pit. Monitor how much fodder you are using per day; it’s best to work out your average usage over two or three days, because some lots may get fresh silage over different intervals.
Calculate the number of days of forage you have left, based on your current usage and stock levels.
If you expect to run out of fodder before all animals are turned out to grass, consider what types of fodder you can purchase locally, whether you have the capacity to increase meal feeding (without sickening animals) or introduce alternative fodders such as hay or beet. If sourcing bales, consider neighbours for convenience.
If fodder is difficult to source try your local contractor.
Contractors generally have a very good handle on which customers have a lot of fodder left over.
Ask your local meal merchants if they can supply a cheaper ration suitable for higher rates of feeding and with more fill factor. Consider what animals near finishing can be offloaded sooner than what you planned.
Where funds are tight, consider offloading some animals in order to free up cash flow, engage with your bank and merchant early in order to put sufficient credit facilities in place. Spread fertiliser now, to get grass growing at the earliest opportunity.
Don’t overgraze or poach fields, as this will impact on regrowth levels and only compounds difficulties. Graze silage ground, where conditions allow Start thinking about next winter’s fodder budget. The cold weather and cold soil temperatures may impact on silage crops to be taken this May and June. Consider reducing stock numbers, maximising growth for the coming season by increasing fertiliser applications. Consider linking up with local tillage farmers who may grow beet, maize, whole-crop or grass silage on contract for you.
Now is the time to do this, before spring planting begins. For tillage farmers, the fodder shortage may present opportunities to stray away from break-even ,traditional cropping, into contract growing of maize, beet or even silage.
It is important to put a contract in place that ensures you get paid in advance of harvest, and that default of payment voids your contract. For farmers running out of fodder, where you feel unable to manage the situation yourself, call for help from neighbours, farm organisations or the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Welfare on 0761-064408 or 01-6072379. On a positive note, all things must pass, and this tough spring period will eventually be replaced with long warm sunny days, it’s just a case of survival until then!
Chartered tax adviser Kieran Coughlan, Belgooly, Co Cork. (086) 8678296