Clover-rich willows, framed by dense hedges, with space for native trees at the edge. Although actions like this take time, thought and effort to implement, John and Brendan Walsh’s farm in Ballylooby, Co. Tipperary is reaping the rewards.
The family was the 2021 Grassland Farmer of the Year competition winner for “Clover and Sustainability” and 2017 winners of the NDC and Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards.
Driving to the Walshes’ farm, it’s easy to see that the sixth generation farmers take great pride in their work as the morning mist rolls over the nearby Knockmealdown and Galtee mountains.
The family hosted a farm walk last week to highlight the impact introducing new technologies such as clover, low emission slurry application (LESS), protected urea and improving hedges can have on the overall sustainability of the farm.
This attitude of embracing new technology and staying ahead of the curve runs through the generations at the Teagasc Signpost farm.
“My father was inventive during his time with Klee,” reveals John.
“We always reseeded one field every year. Then, a year from now, he said he would keep the shamrock going and stop spreading chemical fertilizer and instead use pig manure in the summer.”
Like his father before him, John and his son Brendan are willing to give new practices a try. Her latest venture is to get the most out of the farm’s manure.
John had each of the farm’s tanks tested, with the results showing how nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) levels can vary between samples depending on animal age profile and ration, with which the animals are fed.
All results are in units/1,000 gallons – where 1,000 gallons is equivalent to applying one 50 kg bag of fertilizer – and are as follows:
■ the outer lagoon N 11.6, P 1.50, K 10.90;
■ the cow drying tank N 26.92, P 3.84, K 32.60;
■ the weaners to 1.5 kg ration tanks N 35.49, P 7.15, K 37.66;
■ fattening cattle on 6kg feed tanks N 45.40, P 9.66, K 42.04.
John uses this new data to decide where to best apply the manure from each tank. This in turn results in greater overall utilization of the NPK constituents and provides better grass growth.
The Walshes’ farm consists of 80.2 ha (198 ac) of owned land and 21.8 ha (54 ac) of leased land, with 2.4 ha of natural forestry.
The stocking density of the entire farm is 2.3 LU/ha and the milking platform is 57.9 ha with a stocking density of 2.64 LU/ha.
The land is free draining except for 8 ha of heavy soil to the north of the farm. The yard is in the middle of the milking platform. The paddock size varies on the farm.
The herd consists of 153 cows with an EBI of €185. In 2021, 525 kg milk dry matter per cow was reached, with an average of 740 kg of flour per cow being fed.
Brendan’s feed estimate for 2022 is 830kg/cow but he hopes to lower that number to 600kg/cow in the future.
“Summer is the hardest time for feeding flour. May can be a dry month and there is no hope of moving from there,” he says.
The average milk price the farm received in 2021 was 42c/l from Dairygold. SCC was an all-time low last year at 53,000 cells/mL.
The herd has a calving interval of 367 days. The six-week spring calving rate was 84 percent and the median calving date is February 9.
“My focus is on fat, protein and maintenance when looking at an EBI replacement. I’m not worried about milk kilos. The main target is milk solids,” says Brendan.
“We’ve had good protein gains from 2016-2020. In the last 2-4 years there have been advances in fat.
“To get good percentages you have to make an effort, you can’t just go ahead with what is recommended, you have to see what suits your herd. Many poor high volume bulls are not suitable for us.
“Sexed semen has been used in heifers with promising results. We used fixed time insemination and bred half sexed semen and half conventional semen.
“The conception rate was 75 percent with sexed semen and 68 percent with conventional semen. Most likely next year we will be using more sexed semen in heifers.”
The days on grass are between 280 and 290, with the farm growing 13.5 t DM/ha of 165 kg N/ha in 2021.
The first fertilizer is applied in February and March, with the spring rotation 40 percent of the farm is grazed by March 1st.
The second cycle begins in April. Paddocks without clover receive an average of 0.7 units N/ac/day during the summer rotation.
During the fall rotation, 29 N units per acre will be applied in August and September. Most of the farm is closed in October.
The paddocks are 63% covered with clover – this was achieved by 94% overseeding and 6% overseeding. The goal by 2025 is to have 80 paddocks with clover.
Weed strains used include Abergain, Aberclyde, Astonenergy, Aberchoice, Astonconquerer, Abermagic and Drumbo. Varieties of clover used include Aberace, Aberherald, Chieftain, and Crusader.
The first grazing of a new Kleenarbe takes place with 88kg DM/ha, whereby silage cuts are avoided at least in the first 12 months.
Reduced shading is aimed at over the winter, which is achieved by later closing in the last crop rotation and early grazing in spring.
“My general rule of thumb is week five after emergence, ???? It’s applied to clover seed and by the sixth week the cows are out no matter what’s in the paddock,” John said.
“The most important thing is to get it clean like a lawn and come back in after 14 days. Whatever weeds are there, they will be there in five weeks.”
Brendan believes that regular grass measurement by PastureBase is critical to any farm’s overall grassland management strategy.
“In 2014 we started measuring grass. Now it’s one of the most important hours of the week because it sets your decisions for the next five days,” he says.
“After the walk you have the plan in front of you.
“We measure every five days in the summer. If I leave it for a week or more, a lot can change in that time. More hikes gives you more options on what to do.
“You can identify poorly performing paddocks and go where the wedge tells you to.”
Given the high use of clover in sods, which has many positive effects on the Walshes’ farm, John and Brendan are concerned about flatulence.
“We recently lost two cows to flatulence, the last loss three weeks ago,” says ???. “Usually we stretch wire strips for 1½-2 hours of grazing, which forces the cows to eat everything. This served us well, but it didn’t work in this case.
“Right now they’re not drinking a whole heap of water, so it’s difficult to use additives in the drinkers. During these times, you need to include fiber in your diet.
“We offer straw at the field gap to support the fiber supply. They eat it like silage, gobble it up, two bales a day and we still watch them for bloat.
“In one ryegrass field, the amount of straw eaten was immediately halved, proving to us that fiber is the problem.
“Bloat is an obvious negative and we are expecting another case. It’s very difficult and I don’t wish it on anyone. You have to counteract this as best you can.
“Ultimately, however, Klee’s advantages outweigh the disadvantages.”
Each additional day on pasture is worth €3/h in 2023 – Teagasc
Teagasc has revised its estimate for each additional day on pasture to over €3/animal/day for the 2023 season as input costs increase.
Grainne Hurley, Teagasc’s advisor to the Dairygold Joint Program, urged farmers to start closing to have grass available next spring.
The rotation period should currently be at least 30 days, and farmers should close Oct. 5-15 on dry farms and a week earlier on heavy farms, she outlined.
Each daily delay in closure reduces spring grass supplies, and Teagasc said 60-65 percent of the total area should be closed by Nov. 1.
Spring paddocks on rainy days, as well as clover paddocks and overseeding should be closed by the end of October. Grazed grass is more valuable fodder in spring than fall grass.
AIB Agricultural Advisor Liam Phelan was also on hand and warned farmers about volatile markets and how this could affect new projects.
He advised farmers to accept a security reserve of 10 to 15 percent for new loans.
“You don’t want to realize, oh, I’m undercooked here. Taste it as best you can and build on a 15 percent cushion as these are strange times.”
Grassland Agro’s Seán McMahon urged farmers to take soil samples to get the most out of fertilization and therefore grass growth.
“There’s no point in taking a soil sample and then putting it in the top drawer where dust is created. Make a plan,” he said.
“If you don’t have current soil samples, bring them up to date. If you have poor soil fertility, don’t test every year, you’ll frustrate yourself. Progress can be slow.”
He recommends that the optimal time for soil sampling on farms is from Christmas week through early January.
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/how-to-optimise-grass-growth-top-tips-from-this-award-winning-tipperary-family-42055928.html How to Optimize Grass Growth – top tips from this award-winning Tipperary family