Fertiliser: The cost of nitrogen fertiliser is soaring. Those who purchased at the end of 2020 or in early January will have secured prices around 40% cheaper than current quotes. Those that spread urea in January and early February seem to have got a good response.

However, most farmers didn’t get a chance to spread at that stage. The forecast for the weekend and into next week is good, so there should be an opportunity to get nitrogen spread.

Teagasc trial work has consistently shown a good response to early nitrogen.

Spreading 24 units/acre of urea in early January yielded an extra 300kgDM/ha of grass by mid-March compared to not spreading. There is a higher response to March application. Spreading 40 units/acre in mid-March generated an extra 650kgDM/ha of grass by 20 April.

Soil temperatures are currently very high at between 6°C and 9°C and grass growth is good in general. On farms that have no N spread yet, I would be inclined to go with 30 units/acre as soon as conditions allow. On farms that have nitrogen spread, they can hold off for another few weeks and then go with something similar in mid-March. Remember, ground that has received slurry can be skipped with the bag nitrogen. If conditions allow, spread slurry on fields that have been grazed.

Calf sales: The next few weeks will be the peak time for calf sales. The minimum age for a calf to be sold is 10 days of age. Calves must be at least 10 days of age before they can be moved off farm and they must have a dry naval. Calves for export must be at least two weeks of age and be less than six weeks of age. If taking Holstein Friesian-type calves to the mart, make sure they are within a day or so of 14 days old to make them eligible for export. This will make those calves more attractive for exporters.

Grazing: Hopefully, the much sought-after dry and settled weather will bring a return to grazing for all dairy farmers. Most farmers are well behind target in terms of area grazed but it is not a cause to be overly concerned just yet. For the moment, the key thing is to get as much area grazed as quickly as possible. On page 36 and 37, Gary Shaw from Mayo says he plans to get 50% grazed by 20 March and then drag out the next 50% to 10 April or so.

Getting area grazed as quickly as possible will mean that area has time to regrow before the start of the second rotation. You want to avoid a situation whereby there is too much grass ahead of the cows in late March and not enough grass coming on behind. To achieve this, farmers who have little or none of the farm grazed to date will have to go at it hammer and tongs over the next few weeks. Presuming ground conditions can cope, cows should be out day and night and silage removed from the diet. Meal feeding should be minimised (it’s very expensive now) and low covers should be grazed first. This is really high-quality feed – high in protein and high in energy. It’s better than anything you can get in a nut.