CAFRE Management Tips – When the weather improves

Date published: 17 April 2024

Due to the heavy rainfall the country has encountered in recent months it is safe to say that it’s not business as usual when it comes to livestock and grassland management.

Consider target harvest date when planning fertiliser applications.

Most livestock farms have had little or no opportunity to make use of spring grass or the nutrients produced on farm via slurry and farmyard manure never mind purchased artificial fertilisers. 

The points raised above along with now limited stocks of fodder are leading to the situation where management decisions are more crucial than ever. 

Although every farm business is different and must be treated so, the management notes outlined below by Dominic Mason and Kathryn George, CAFRE Senior Agriculture Advisers, help to highlight some of the key decisions that should be considered when there is an improvement in weather and ground conditions.

Applying slurry:

•         Spreading slurry to swards with heavy covers above 2500 kg DM/ha (8cm+) should be avoided, to reduce sward contamination.

•         Slurry spreading should also be avoided if there is less than 4 weeks between application and proposed harvest date. Better to retain the slurry for application to second and subsequent cuts when it can be applied to bare stubbles.

•         Many farms are now feeling the pressure on slurry storage facilities.  If this is the case and there are no fields dry enough and with low grass covers then a possible option may be to cut and round bale paddocks or fields with the heaviest grass covers or zero graze if applicable when conditions allow.  This in turn will open an area of ground for slurry application and help to establish a grazing wedge.

Fertiliser for first cut

•         If you still have fertiliser to apply assume the grass will use 2 units Nitrogen (2.5kg N/day) between application date and proposed harvest date. For example, if planning to cut on 10th May and applying fertilizer on 20th April then the target is to apply 40 units (50kg N/ha).

•         Establish what Nitrogen has already been applied via slurry, with 1000 gallons supplying ~27 units Nitrogen (34 kg N/ha).

•         Phosphate and potash requirements should hopefully have been provided by early season slurry applications where this was possible. If this is not the case, then a compound fertiliser containing P and/or K will be necessary in line with soil analysis results. The “Crop Nutrient Requirement Calculator” within DAERA Online Services should be used with the nitrogen requirement reduced in line with the number of growing days as highlighted above.

•         If concerned about nitrate content of the grass at the time of cutting contact your local CAFRE advisor for information and guidance on testing grass samples precutting.

Managing the grazing area

•         Walk the grazing area now to determine what grass is available in an effort to plan a turnout date once ground conditions allow. 

•         If available covers are over 3500kgDM/ha (10-12cm+) take these out of the rotation as baled silage as soon as ground conditions allow. Act quickly to remove surplus grass to bring ground back into the grazing rotation. Do not wait until the main first cut as this will lead to a shortage of grazing grass later in the rotation.

•         Focus on maximising the grazed area on your farm, target lower covers of less than 2700 Kg DM/ha to increase area grazed.

•         If grazing ground is not suitable for cutting and covers are heavy consider grazing heavier and lighter covers simultaneously to maintain rotation length.

•         Contact your CAFRE Adviser if you wish to discuss your situation.

Fodder and housing points to consider:

•         In the short term, consider is there an option of putting youngstock out to drier ground to ease housing pressure with lighter classes of stock limiting pasture damage.

•         With fodder and bedding supplies tightening on many farms it is noted that round baled silage has been trading in many areas between £25-£45/bale quality dependent, pit silage at £35-£45/tonne and imported straw from England trading at £220/tonne.

As can be seen via GrassCheck grass growth is in line with the 10-year av. and is predicted to increase rapidly over the next fortnight so measuring and management at this stage is crucial.  Remember the rain will stop at some point!

Notes to editors: 

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