Limerick farmer shows how to make the best of a bad situation

Eoin Horgan, Teagasc advisor


Eoin Horgan, Teagasc advisor


Limerick farmer shows how to make the best of a bad situation

All in the same boat but there isn’t much water: Attendees at the farm walk in Kilfinny, Adare

ON FRIDAY, Teagasc, along with Kerry Agri, held a farm walk on Padraig Condron’s farm near Kilfinny.

This is a part of County Limerick that is often affected by lack of rain but a drought like what we have seen all summer has not happened in recent times. The rain that fell at the weekend is a welcome relief for many farms in the county and should be enough for grass growth to start recovering.

The purpose of the farm walk was to assess the current situation on farms and give farmers a few things to look at on their own farms.

Padraig took the decision to shut down the farm since around June 20 and the cows have been parked in a sacrifice paddock near the yard since. Grass growth has been almost nothing all summer and the cows are currently on a diet of 50% silage, 50% concentrates. They are being fed under the wire in the paddock.

The recovery process on Condron’s farm, like many in County Limerick, will take a couple of weeks and it is likely that grass won’t make up a big proportion of the diet for two to three weeks yet. Rotation length will have to be held at 30 days, as from mid-August onwards autumn grass should start to be built up on farms. In the meantime, once 20 – 25 mls of rain has fallen Padraig intends to commence spreading fertiliser again. Around 30 – 40 units/acre of nitrogen from a CAN based product is ideal and if possible some phosphorus and potassium will also help the grass plant to recover.

Sulphur is also beneficial in drier conditions.

Possibly the biggest consequence of the drought is the lack of winter fodder on farms. Currently the deficit on Padraig’s farm is 32%. This figure is however changing by the day as silage is being fed every day. In addition to this second cuts of silage were either grazed of were very low yielding. Grass growth is currently around 2.5 tonnes of dry matter per hectare below average. There will be a recovery in growth but at this stage it is unlikely that it will be enough to replenish silage stocks as it’s getting late in the season.

As well as looking at the supply for winter fodder, farmers should be looking at the demand for it too. There are always cull cows on dairy farms and usually farmers keep them into the winter to help with cash flow. This is a year to be going through the cows now and seeing if there are culls which can be sold off the farm sooner rather than later. Between now and April 1 a cow will eat around 4.25 tonnes of dry matter so there is a huge saving to be had by culling early.

Basically culling 10% of the herd now will increase fodder supply by one month for the rest of the herd. It’s not a winter to be carrying unproductive stock. Padraig has been in touch with his scanner to help to identify culls.

Fodder crops such as fodder rape or redstart could be an option for some farms. There are cows on sacrifice paddocks which don’t have the potential to grow much grass for the rest of the year. If possible less straw could be used for bedding on farms and the straw could be used for feeding to fill the gap.

It is likely already that restricted silage intake will have to happen on some farms this winter. This is difficult to do unless there is 0.6 metres per cow of feed space. Now is the time look at facilities to see is it possible to extend the feed passages. Also stock of feed maybe under pressure so there may be better value by buying early and in bulk. Maybe an artic-load of feed could be purchased now and stored in the calving area and fed before cows start calving.

There will be a lot of extra work around feeding this coming winter so it is important to be organised. Your local Teagasc adviser can help with these decisions.

The Teagasc fodder helpline is open from 9am to 9pm for clients and non-clients on 087 7971377.