Growth Watch By Teagasc’s Seán Cummins and James Fitzgerald

As we enter the latter part of May and continue with growth watch, the priority on many farms swings to the harvesting of first cut silage crops.

It must be noted that the majority of first cut crops are behind on yield compared to what would be expected and hoped for.

Weather conditions over the past week have stalled harvesting in many parts of the country, and this looks likely to continue over the weekend.

While weather conditions are most definitely a valid reason for holding off on harvesting, the bulk (or lack thereof) in the crop is not a reason to delay harvesting.

Beyond the last days in May, the extra bulk that is gained from growth is directly cancelled out by a reduction in silage quality. While you will gain bulk in a bigger pit of silage or more bales, you are not gaining anything of nutritive value.

Don’t miss a trick during growth watch

Once weather and ground conditions allow, first cut crops taken up since early April should be harvested.

Before this occurs, survey your grazing ground and identify whether or not you have grass getting ahead of stock.

While many farms will not have a surplus of grass, harvesting any grass that is gone ahead of stock while the main cut is being taken, is the easiest opportunity you will get to take surplus bales out.

3 key steps to staying on track:
  1. Walk your farm every five days and complete wedge using PastureBase Ireland;
  2. Keep 12-14 days grass ahead;
  3. Keep pre–grazing yields at 1400kg DM/Ha (9-10cm).

Ciaran Bartley, Knockaneagh, Limerick

  • Growth: 72kg DM/ha;
  • Demand: 50kg DM/ha;
  • Average farm cover: 1,168kg DM/ha;
  • Stocking rate: 5.28LU/ha.
Ciaran Bartley

A lot of the farm is heavy, but we’ve been lucky in that we’ve escaped most of the rain over the last week. The forecast for the weekend ahead looks challenging, so we’ll have to keep a close eye on stock to ensure damage is minimised.

We recorded our highest growth rate of the year to date this week at 72kg DM/ha/day, putting growth ahead of demand by about 22kg.

The average farm cover is running at 1,168kg DM/ha, which is probably a fraction high. However, our wedge is rather flat and our heaviest cover is 1,650kg DM/ha, so I’ll make a call on taking out surplus bales next week when we will be starting on first cut silage.

All of our straight nitrogen fertiliser on the farm is now spread in the form of protected urea, and I plan on following cattle with 23units/ac once paddocks are grazed out.

Ground conditions were excellent up to about two weeks ago. And, when we could travel, I opted to spread lime rather than leaving it until later in the year where the opportunity might pass by.

A total of 120t of lime has been applied since April at this stage, covering 60ac of ground. Just 35% of our land was optimum for pH when we last soil tested.

Hopefully the applications of lime this year, along with an additional 40t spread last year, will help to correct this, while also making more phosphorous available in the soil.

Martin Connolly, Castleplunket, Co. Roscommon

  • Growth: 38kg DM/ha;
  • Demand: 27kg DM/ha;
  • Average farm cover: 720kg DM/ha;
  • Stocking rate: 2.19LU/ha.
Martin Connolly

Grass growth here has been stuck in gear throughout May averaging 35-38kg DM/ha. With the bull beef system I run having a relatively low demand for grass in the first half of the year, I have been able to keep grass in front of all stock despite the slow growth rates.

So far this year, one area of the farm that seems to be far less affected by the poor weather than the rest is the 8ac of ground that was reseeded last autumn and is now on its 4th grazing.

While it has been a huge help in keeping grass supply up, a bit of care has been needed in its grazing due to the tenderness of the ground after being reseeded.

The silage ground is ready for cutting once conditions allow. 5ac of this was taken for bales earlier in the week. These will be fed to the first of the finishing bulls when they are housed in June, so that the pit does not need to be opened until more stock are housed later in the year.

34 bales was the return from the 5ac which is an okay return considering the poor growth.