Fer­tiliser wait­ing game is a fool­hardy strat­egy

Hold­ing out for the ‘per­fect’ spread­ing day is cost­ing some farm­ers a month’s grass growth, re­ports Louise Ho­gan

Irish Independent - Farming - - SHEEP FEATURE -

said. “What hap­pens over the win­ter then, best made plans and all that, we are at the mercy of big­ger pow­ers, but what we have done will af­fect the growth rate to some ex­tent.

“It is no good think­ing about spring grass when you hit Fe­bru­ary. There is no point in wait­ing, we are not ma­gi­cians, you have to have some sort of a plan in place. If we don’t put any plan in place, we can’t ex­pect mir­a­cles.”

Philip pointed out that the grass­land plan from Athenry dif­fer­ent land. It is a start­ing point,” he ex­plained. “If you don’t have a plan, it is hard to achieve the re­sult we are look­ing for.”

He pointed out that Rory was work­ing with a mixed sheep and beef farm, with 25pc closed by late Oc­to­ber, 50pc by mid-Novem­ber, 60pc by late Novem­ber and 80pc by mid-De­cem­ber.

“We are try­ing to lamb the ewes to co­in­cide with grass growth start­ing to equal sup­ply,” said Philip. “Once we lamb, there is no turn­ing back. By start­ing in Oc­to­ber, we are cap­i­tal­is­ing on the re­growths in Oc­to­ber and early Novem­ber,” he said. “If we don’t start clos­ing un­til well into Novem­ber, we have lost the op­por­tu­nity to build the re­growths.”

Rory closed off the land fur­thest from the yard first as it is the most shel­tered for the early turnout, with the sheep con­fined to a small area with silage un­til they were housed.

At this point of year, the aim is to have a farm with 650kg/ DM/ha or 5cm-6cm of av­er­age cover. On the Gowran farm, the av­er­age was around 300kg/DM/ ha or 4cm-4.5cm.

“If you were to think about what you did last au­tumn, as­sess what is on the farm at the mo­ment and look at if there is some­thing you could change. It is too late for this year, but never to late for next year,” said Philip. Terry pointed out they were aim­ing for four months or 120 days of a rest pe­riod for the grass.

Tea­gasc’s Michael Gottstein, head of sheep knowl­edge trans­fer, said it was now about try­ing to drive on the grass on the farm be­tween now and turnout.

With spread­ing in mind, firstly con­di­tions to travel the ground were key, fol­lowed by soil tem­per­a­tures be­gin­ning to rise and en­sur­ing there was no drop in tem­per­a­tures fore­cast for the week ahead.

“When you do spread fer­tiliser, it is not a magic wand,” said Michael. “It takes a pe­riod of time for the fer­tiliser to work. Gen­er­ally it takes about four to six weeks from the time you spread un­til you have grass on the ground.”

Michael said the sec­ond ap­pli­ca­tion be­fore the start of lamb­ing or at lamb­ing time if pos­si­ble was key to en­sure more grass was com­ing on.

“Now is the time for most to start think­ing about spread­ing fer­tiliser or slurry, not in four to six weeks’ time.”

Terry also pointed out the “sec­ond shot” of fer­tiliser around five weeks later is the real win­ner. “The first one gets it into the growth phase and the sec­ond one de­liv­ers the vol­ume,” he said, with the amount spread for the rest of the year de­pen­dent on stock­ing rates.

“Peo­ple can start run­ning out of grass in the three to five­week pe­riod af­ter they turn out the sheep,” said Michael. “From the ewes point of view, that is what we re­ally want to avoid as that is the stage the ewe flock is hit­ting the peak milk yield. If you re­strict their in­take at that par­tic­u­lar pe­riod of time, you will lower the amount of milk they will pro­duce in their en­tire lac­ta­tion.”

He also urged farm­ers to group up the ewes into larger flocks af­ter as short a pe­riod of time as pos­si­ble, with groups of around 80 to 100 on Rory’s farm af­ter the ma­jor con­cerns of mis-mothering have passed.

Pad­docks may need to be split with the aim of hav­ing five pad­docks per graz­ing group.

Tea­gasc ad­vi­sor Terry Car­roll and farm owner Rory O’Don­nell at the Grass10 walk in Kilkenny

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