Harvesting the last of the winter fodder in Co. Mayo

The winter feeding period is drawing closer on livestock farms up and down the country. Hopefully, weather conditions will allow for extended grazing into the backend.

However, we have already witnessed some farms – particularly those situated in the north west of the country – come under pressure in terms of ground conditions.

From early summer, farmers have been securing winter fodder supplies in terms of pit silage and bales. And, while the drought-like conditions mid-summer interrupted grass growth for a period, most farmers have managed to harvest enough fodder.

One such farming family, Austin and Jarleth Ruane in Claremorris, Co. Mayo – participants in the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme – have harvested some 610 bales of silage this year.

With the calf-to-beef system and a sheep enterprise on the farm, there is now an ample amount of silage in the yard for the stock on the farm, and – all going well – it may not all be required this winter.

Saying that, it’s a valuable asset to have in the yard in the case of a prolonged winter or if another drought occurs next year. If it’s not used during this period, having silage in the yard provides a valuable head start for the winter of 2022.

While the farm was already in a silage surplus – assuming a 155-day winter – Jarleth opted to harvest another 10ac of grass on Tuesday last, August 11.

The grass was mowed at 12:00pm on Tuesday and tedded out immediately after and allowed to wilt. On Wednesday evening, it was raked before baling and wrapping on Thursday morning.

The crop yielded six bales/ac and is now stacked in the yard for the oncoming winter.

All-in-all, that brings the total number of acres harvested to approximately 90ac in 2020 – excluding top-quality bales that were made from paddocks that had gone too strong for grazing.

A high amount of surplus bales were harvested due to favourable grass growing conditions on the farm this year.

Earlier in the summer, both Jarleth and his dedicated programme advisor, James Fitzgerald, sat down and completed a fodder budget for the holding using the Teagasc PastureBase Ireland tool.

To complete this process, the number of silage bales present in the yard were counted.

The next step in the process was to identify what animals will be kept on farm over the winter months, how long will animals be housed and what level of meal supplementation will be required for each individual age bracket / type of animal – be they weanlings, stores, finishing animals or ewes.

There will be 61 yearlings, 34 stores and 45 ewes present for the winter.

Additionally, the heaviest of the 2019-born bullocks (10 head) will be housed in the coming days and finished over a 100-day period. Their comrades will be stored and finished off grass next year under 30 months-of-age.

Additionally, the feed requirement of the ewes was taken into account.

When this was completed – using a 155-day winter for the store cattle, 155-day winter for the yearlings, a 100-day finishing period for the finishing steers and a 60-day requirement for the ewes – there is a dry matter (DM) silage requirement of 111.65t, while 136.29t was available in the yard.

The addition of this week’s silage to supplies brings the total tonnage to 151.15t/DM – some 39.5t more than what’s required.

Elsewhere on the farm, grass growth has reduced over the last two weeks; the latest grass measurement indicates a growth rate of 27kg DM/ha, while the farm has a demand of 40kg DM/ha.

However, with the heavier steers heading into the shed in the coming days, and finished ‘grass’ steers being marketed in the next week, demand will be reduced and Jarleth can start building grass covers again.

Furthermore, now that winter feed supplies have been secured – and after second-cut silage was harvested – Jarleth earmarked 4ac for reseeding. This area was sprayed off and ripped with a disc harrow.

Following this, last Friday, the grass seed was broadcast using a fertiliser spreader before rolling to achieve good soil-seed contact; slurry was then spread on the reseeded ground.