January and February sees the slurry season opening for farmers.
But before rushing out with the tanker, take the time to think about getting the best return from the nutrients applied.
Outlined are some tips to consider before spreading slurry this spring.
1. Safety when mixing tanks
Slurry gases are deadly as soon as they are agitated.
Keep this in mind when mixing tanks, as the build-up of gas will have intensified over winter.
When mixing tanks, move as many cattle as you can outside to handling pens first, giving priority to those animals closest to the slurry pump.
Make good use of livestock trailers to hold animals for a few hours if necessary.
It may seem like unnecessary hassle, but it is a better option than risking an animal dying from slurry gases.
Ideally, mix slurry on days when there is plenty of wind to displace air in sheds, thereby reducing the risks from gases.
Think about your own safety. Keep yourself, children and farm pets well clear of the shed once mixing starts.
Never leave tanks open. If you have to attend to other jobs, make sure tank openings are covered and barricaded off.
2. Targeting fields with slurry
If storage tanks are under pressure, the priority will be to get slurry on to any field that can carry the tanker.
But if tanks are not yet filled to capacity, then give some thought to which fields will get slurry now and those to skip.
While drier fields will carry the tanker in late January and early February, slurry applied on these paddocks will delay cattle turnout for at least three to four weeks after spreading.
Therefore, if possible, target slurry to fields with the lowest grass covers.
These paddocks are likely to be grazed at the end of the first rotation, giving more time for slurry to be utilised before grazing.
Also, target fields with low P and K levels to stimulate grass growth, rather than the handy fields which are closest to the yard.
3. Don’t overestimate nutrient content
The nutrient content in slurry varies depending on the cattle that produced it.
Slurry produced from dry cows will have low a very low NPK content.
In such cases, this slurry will not stimulate much growth. Swards will need topping up with bagged fertiliser instead.
In contrast, slurry produced from finishing cattle on high-concentrate diets is much more potent and will boost grass growth in spring. Farmers can top up with a straight nitrogen product as necessary.
4. How much slurry will be spread
Is the plan to get as much slurry out now or to simply spread enough just to free up storage space in tanks?
Every farm will differ and a lot will depend on ground conditions.
Again, keep in mind your target dates for getting cattle back to grass and walk the farm to monitor grass covers.
If the farm is carrying reasonably good covers, put out a few loads once spreading is permitted and wait until swards have been grazed off before putting out the majority of slurry.
If the farm is carrying low covers, then focus on getting as much slurry out as soon as the spreading season officially opens.
5. Spreading conditions
When used correctly, slurry can be a good substitute for bagged fertiliser.
So, when possible, apply slurry during dull conditions. Spreading on clear days increases nitrogen loss to the atmosphere.
Avoid spreading if heavy rain is forecast within 24 hours of spreading or after heavy frost.
Keep all cross compliance issues in mind in relation to water courses, as well as spreading options if the farm is in a derogation.