Sampling: The next few months will be peak time for soil sampling.

The longer the time period between spreading slurry or compound fertiliser and taking the soil sample the better.

Ideally, there should be a three-month lag but this won’t always be possible.

December and January are the two months where this is most likely.

Relative to the costs of fertiliser, soil sampling is cheap and it allows you to tailor where to spread fertiliser and slurry, thereby making savings.

Samples should be taken with a core and every area of the farm that is treated differently should have its own sample, ie every paddock. Samples should be taken in a W pattern across the sampling area, avoiding dungpads.

The maximum area allowed per sample for those in a nitrates derogation is 5ha and these need to be updated every four years.

There’s an increased interest in getting slurry analysed for nutrient content. The information generated goes hand in hand with a nutrient management plan and soil sample results. On many farms, particularly dairy farms with a high liquid fraction in slurry, the nutrient content of that slurry per 1,000 gallons is a good bit less than the book value.

Information is power and if slurry is higher or lower in certain nutrients, it’s important to know that.

A slurry sample costs between €60 and €80 and 2l is required for a test. Safely take an agitated sample, ideally from the back of the tanker. When analysing slurry test results, look at the amount of available nutrients, not total nutrients.

Grass covers: Now is the time to carry out a closing grass cover, which for most farmers will be the final grass walk of the year. Grass growth rates remain high and many farmers are finding that closing cover is much higher than normal.

Some are concerned about carrying over some very high covers on individual paddocks. It’s certainly a concern if on very heavy land, but if there’s a good chance you’ll be out grazing in February I would be less concerned, particularly where there is a good six-week calving rate.

In my view, decisions should be made based on average farm cover rather than individual covers.

Average farm cover should be 600kg to 900kg/ha now. Each farm will have a different target based on stocking rate and calving rate. The end point is always early April and the target then is to have an average farm cover of 500kg/ha and have achieved as many grazings as possible in spring.

Planning: As more cows are dried off, workload on farms should be decreasing and everyone should be getting more time off or at least working at a slower pace. It’s important to make use of the opportunity. Take time over the next few weeks to evaluate calf housing and calving sheds.

Are there things that can be done during the quiet time to make life easier during the busy time? Relatively small investments in calf rearing such as mobile calf feeders, milk pumps and mixers can dramatically reduce workload.

Simple things like having all gates hanging and widening access for tractors to make cleaning out easier will save time next spring.