Fertiliser: This week we take a look at the strategy for early spring nitrogen and fertiliser for silage ground next season.

The rising costs are a major worry for farmers, but insufficient supply should really be a bigger concern. The advice is clear – if you need to apply fertiliser, you should continue to do so, even at the higher prices.

Some farmers are saying that they’re not going to spread nitrogen in early February and will instead skip that first round.

That’s a reasonable strategy if you normally struggle to finish the first grazing rotation before 10 April and usually end up skipping paddocks for silage because pre-grazing yields get too strong.

However, it’s a very risky strategy for farmers that are higher stocked, on dry land and who are usually tight for grass in late March and early April. If these farmers normally spread nitrogen in early February and are now thinking of skipping that application, they need to ask themselves what is going to fill the gap between what that nitrogen normally grows and what the cows need to eat.

A typical response in early spring will be about 8kg-10kg of grass in late March for every 1kg of nitrogen applied in early February.

So if you spread 30kg N/ha in February at a cost of €2/kg N, the fertiliser cost is €60/ha. For that, you will grow 240kg of grass per hectare, which costs 0.25c/kg DM. This is historically very expensive grass, but it’s comparable in terms of feed value to concentrate.

You would need to be buying meal cheaper than €212/t fresh weight in order for meal to be better value than fertiliser. If the response to nitrogen is improved, the economics will be even more in favour of fertiliser. The rising costs are a bitter pill to swallow, but be careful not to be penny wise and pound foolish.

Slurry: Exposure to rising fertiliser prices can be offset by making more use of slurry. However, the cows are unlikely to produce more of it just because fertiliser prices have increased, so it’s about managing it better. This likely involves spreading a larger area of the farm when conditions allow in January or February. This slurry will be a direct replacement for chemical nitrogen when applied at a low rate of 2,500 gallons per acre. The biggest issue is most farmers end up spreading much heavier applications than this, usually on fields that are most suitable for slurry due to ground conditions or proximity to the yard. Umbilical pipe systems usually spread at a high rate. Use the next few months to put a plan in place for slurry on your farm.

Drying off: As more cows are being dried off, there are a few key points;

  • Make sure treated cows are identified by tape or spray paint, in case the groups mix.
  • Make sure cubicle hygiene is excellent, particularly in the two weeks after drying off.
  • Reduce the level of silage or grass offered to cows before and after drying off, which will help to reduce milk yield.
  • Keep recently dried off cows as far away from the milking parlour as possible.