Should I graze my silage ground or close it up?

The 2017 winter seems to be finally coming to a close, with ground temperatures on the up and fertiliser spreaders busy in the fields. Pockets of suckler cattle can now be seen dotted on paddocks across the country.

However, heavy rain – in certain regions – on Sunday and Monday has halted plans to let cattle out. Hopefully, with the warm and dry weather expected over the next few days, farmers can turn cattle onto pastures.

Some farmers are now faced with a difficult decision: Do I graze my silage ground and delay the cutting date or do I apply fertiliser and aim to harvest in late May?

Speaking to AgriLand, Teagasc’s Mairéad Kirk, a beef advisor in the Monaghan region, outlined that grazing the platform is not the biggest issue facing beef farmers and that now is the time for action.

“The issue now is ensuring that farmers get enough of a silage crop for 2018. If farmers don’t have stock out at the minute, they need to walk their silage ground and make a calculated decision,” she explained.

“If there is very little grass on the silage ground, then they are passed the time for grazing it. The best option now is to – weather depending – spread slurry (2,000 gallons/ac).

“Then, depending on soil test results, bagged fertiliser should be spread at a rate of three bags / ac [150kg/ac]. The ground should then be closed up and farmers should aim to cut silage in late May where possible”

Moving to the grazing platform, Mairéad explained that this ground should be grazed off as quickly as possible. Fertiliser should be spread following every grazing to drive on growth, she added.

Dilemma

However, there is another scenario facing farmers across the country. The inclement weather during the back end of 2017 prevented a successful final grazing. This, coupled with the bad spring of this year, has led to decent covers of grass on silage ground.

Farmers need to focus on both the quality and quantity of their silage. Ground should be closed off by now – even if there is a decent cover of grass on it. By aiming to harvest by late May farmers can ensure quality.

On this, Mairéad added: “I think if you got paddocks fertilised and closed up this week and can get it cut in late May, before it starts to head out, you will be making good-quality silage.

“Farmers only feeding drystock over the winter don’t have a massive need for very high-quality silage; they may be more focused on bulk. However, any farmers finishing cattle or with weanlings to feed need to be harvesting quality forage.

Farmers must get the fertiliser out; fertiliser in the yard won’t grow anything.

‘Value for money’

Touching on fertiliser type and cost, Mairéad said: “In my opinion, 18:6:12 is good value at the minute. The extra phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in it act as a soil conditioner.

“Any ground that has took abuse, the P and K are going to be a big help in restoring it; I’d be hoping that temperatures will be warmer from now on,” she added.

Mairéad also outlined the situation in her region. She said: “Farmers in Co. Monaghan have had it tough. However, they learned tough lessons in spring 2013.

“While we have struggled, farmers are making enough silage to get themselves through to May day. That is essentially what has to happen because weather has gone against us.

“There are very few cattle out in this region; some farmers are starting to move now. I’d imagine there will be a world of cattle put out if this week comes dry. But, there’s very few cattle on the ground at the minute,” she concluded.