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
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