Early nitrogen

The closed period for spreading chemical nitrogen has ended for the majority of farmers north and south, with only those in counties Cavan, Monaghan, Donegal and Leitrim having to wait until 15 February before fertiliser can be spread. To be fair, the main priority in the northern part of the country is slurry. Further south, attention should be turning towards early nitrogen fertiliser.

Teagasc studies have shown that even when the total amount of nitrogen applied is the same across treatments, areas that get some nitrogen in February grow 300kg to 500kg more grass per hectare by April compared to areas that get their first nitrogen in March. February applications act as a sort of primer for grass growth. Any extra grass grown in spring is significant, because feed is always scarce.

Across a 100 acre farm, an extra 300kg DM/ha of grass growth is an extra 12t of feed produced on the farm. Importantly, no extra fertiliser was spread in these trials, it was just that the nitrogen applications were split and some was spread in February. It’s also important to note that the spring differential in growth was carried through the rest of the year.


Fields that got slurry in January or February can be skipped with nitrogen in February. The advice is to apply around 20 units/acre of nitrogen now, when conditions are suitable. Separately, protected urea is now available in N, P K form (see more pages 50 and 51). One major concern with all protected urea products is the shelf life of the inhibitor. Farmers buying the product don’t know when the inhibitor was added, at what rate and how long is left on it. These are issues which are likely to deter farmers from buying more protected urea as they don’t really know what they are buying.


The next four to six weeks will see the peak of calving on dairy farms. The obvious priority is to keep cows and calves healthy and this is reliant ?on good habits and routines.

1. Keep the calving area clean as this can be a big source of infection to both cows (mastitis) and calves. Aim to do regular full clean-outs, rather than just topping up the straw.

2. Ensure newborn calves get sufficient good-quality colostrum as soon as possible after being born. Do not rely on the calf to suckle as research says this is insufficient. Calves will suck easily from a teat within the first half hour after being born, but for ease of management a stomach tube is hard to beat.

3. A dry lie, good ventilation, no draughts and sufficient milk are key to good calf health. If any of these are missing, then the calf’s immunity will suffer?.

4. Prioritise grazing wherever possible. This is probably the single biggest act a farmer can do to reduce costs and improve performance. Feeding silage to freshly calved cows kills performance. Early spring grazing ?is extremely valuable where it can be done.

5. Look after people too. Are farmers up to date on flu vaccines? Are staff able to take breaks and finish at the normal times? Spring is busy but try to make it as smooth as possible.