Urea: To spread or not to spread?

Weather conditions have been far from ideal since the turn of the year; the thought of spreading nitrogen (N) may seem like an impossible task.Urea

However, as we move towards the middle of February, grass needs to be fed. Spreading urea early in spring (weather permitting) will not only increase grass growth, but will also improve the quality of the sward and help the pasture to recover after the first grazing.

For starters, farmers should outline a fertiliser and slurry plan. However, this may be difficult as some areas – if not all – are inaccessible at the moment.

Speaking to AgriLand, Teagasc’s Karen Dukelow explained that fertiliser can only be spread when ground conditions allow.

“On wet farms, farmers should avoid spreading urea on waterlogged soils or when snow or ice is present. Farmers can spread in frosty weather, provided the frost clears up during the day,” she said.

She added: “We recommend that fertiliser is not spread during heavy rain and should not be spread until 48 hours after heavy rain. Slurry and fertiliser were spread in Moorepark on Thursday (February 9), but conditions were favourable.

We are not farming in a lab. If conditions are favourable, get it out – even if ground temperatures are low. You will reap the rewards when the temperature rises.

According to Teagasc, slurry needs to be prioritised for low covers and low phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) soil. When conditions allow, 2,500 gallons of slurry per acre should be spread on swards that will not be grazed until March.

In addition, half a bag of urea should be spread on the remaining covers. This urea will remain in the soil and is more stable than calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) during the early spring period.

Teagasc also outlines that an additional 2,500 gallons of slurry per acre should be spread in March. Another 23-40 units should be spread on the remaining land.

Image source: Shane Casey

Research from Teagasc and PastureBase Ireland has shown that the average response to N in the spring is 10kg of grass dry matter (DM) for every 1kg of N spread. Furthermore, spring grass is worth €0.16/kg and – at current fertiliser prices – nitrogen is costing €0.80/kg. This is a 2:1 return on every cent spent.

The challenge and importance of grazed grass

Every blade of grass that an animal eats represents a saving on winter feed costs and will have a positive impact on its liveweight gain.

Grazed grass is the cheapest feed and suckler beef farmers must maximise the length of the grazing system.

Farmers must ensure that the first rotation will last until the growth equals demand on the farm. However, this is no easy task. The biggest challenge is getting all grass grazed when ground and weather conditions remain problematic.

According to Teagasc, every day at grass is worth €2.00/livestock unit (LU). For example, if 60 extra days at grass are captured for 50LU, then it’s worth €6,000.

Planned grazing is important and farmers – where possible – should allocate grass on the drier parts of the farm.

Karen also outlined that lower covers are easier to graze in the wet, as they are green to the base and faster to recover.

“Generally speaking, if farmers are considering turnout, the conditions are probably good. But, we would encourage farmers to go out and look – you may be pleasantly surprised at what you see,” she explained.


If cattle are turned out to grass and weather conditions become unfavourable again, Karen says, there is no harm in rehousing these animals.

“Trial work has shown that cattle who get turned out early and are then re-housed are still heavier than animals that are turned out late,” she concluded.