‘46% of Irish soils require lime, 59% are deficient in P and 49% are deficient in K’

It is no secret that having soils at optimum pH and at the correct levels for phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) can improve the quality of grass grown on Irish suckler and beef farms.

However, speaking at the recent suckler cow conference in Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Teagasc’s John Noonan outlined that 46% of Irish soils require lime, 59% are deficient in P and 49% are deficient in K.

Therefore, there is plenty of scope for improvement and he recommended getting soils sampled and – from there – slurry and fertiliser can be targeted at specific paddocks in order to increase P and K levels if needs be; he also noted that lime should be spread where required.

“25% extra production can be achieved by getting P, K and lime levels right,” he explained.

More from grass

Grass is plentiful on the majority of beef farms at the minute and every effort should be made to get some of this grass into animals’ diets.

While heavier farms may still have soft ground conditions, lighter stock can be turned out. If weather deteriorates, animals can always be re-housed.

However, grass will be very beneficial to the animal and getting stock out to pasture is a saving on winter feed supplies and reduces the housing period.

Housed animals cost more money in terms of feed; grass is five times cheaper than meal and three times cheaper than silage.

John noted that farmers need to target 280-300 days at grass. Naturally, every farm is different and the weather has a big part to play when it comes to this target, but maximising the grazing season is very important, he said.

“The national average for stock on grass in Ireland is 220 days; however, every additional tonne of grass eaten/ha can result in an increase in profit by €100/ha.”

Factors effecting good grass utilisation:
  • Soil fertility;
  • Grazing management;
  • Grazing infrastructure;
  • Reseeding.

On the night, John also advised as to what are the ideal covers that stock should be let into in order to achieve good utilisation.

“The ideal cover should be 8-10cm in height and graze it down to 4cm. If you don’t graze down early in the year, you will lose the quality for the rest of the year.

“Avoid turning cattle into heavy covers if possible; this will result in waste. Under-grazing is another issue. It will result in less utilisation and less grazings that will result in less money at the end of the day.”

Given the heavy covers that are present on farms at the moment, the use of a strip wire and back-fence can reduce wastage.

There’s a lot of things we are not in control of at the minute, but the biggest thing farmers can control is grass.

“So, good quality grass for as long as possible in the diet and making good-quality silage is very important. It’s in your control and you can really get fast results from it,” he concluded.