Over 150 acres of first-cut silage have been ensiled on the Martin family farm in Dromintee, Co Armagh. The first field was mowed down on Wednesday and the last load of grass was tipped up in the yard on Friday evening.

“We were really lucky that we weren’t caught with any rain. There were showers falling close by and we could see it clouding around us a few times, but thankfully it held off,” James Martin said.

With the showers successfully dodged, grass was ensiled in ideal condition. James and his father, Owen, are also pleased with yield, considering how growth rates were hampered by cold temperatures for much of the spring.

“It bulked better than we thought it would. A few weeks ago, all silage covers were looking very light, but it came on well during the last seven or 10 days,” James explained.

“We had to make a move and mow it down anyway. We knew if we waited another week, it would start to shoot and form a yellow bottom. It’s as good as we could hope for both quality and yield,” he added.

The Martins run 160 Holstein cows in a fully housed system, so making high-quality grass silage is a critical part of their business.

They carry out all their own machinery work, with family and neighbours drafted in to help at silage time.

There is still another 70 acres of first-cut to mow down on an outfarm and the aim is to harvest this as soon a dry window appears this week.

This land is at a higher altitude than the rest of the farm and growth is always a fortnight or so later.

Grass covers on the outfarm were therefore lighter than the other silage ground, but James is keen to get it cut soon to maintain quality.

It will be ensiled on the home farm, which is eight miles away, so a lighter crop of good-quality grass will mean less drawing with trailers.

The milking herd is on a total mixed ration which includes second-cut silage from 2019.

Grass in, slurry out

Slurry was being spread on the silage ground around the home farm earlier this week, with all fields receiving 22m3/ha (2,000 gallons/acre).

Additional fertiliser applications in each field depend on the results of a soil analysis exercise, which was conducted during the winter.

The results showed that 46% of the farm is deficient in potassium (K). This is a common issue on ground which is continuously cut for silage.

It also often occurs on land which is located further from the farmyard, as these fields tend to receive less slurry.

On the Martin farm, the K-deficient ground will receive 430kg/ha (3.5 bags/acre) of 23:0:10 chemical fertiliser ahead of a second cut. In the fields where there is no K deficiency, 310kg/ha (2.5 bags/acre) of 27:0:0 fertiliser will be applied.

Cutting often

Multi-cut silage systems, where four or five cuts are taken each year at shorter intervals than the traditional three-cut system, are becoming more popular in Northern Ireland. As the Martins produce milk from silage all year and have their own silage machinery, is it something they would consider?

“We have thought about it and we haven’t ruled it out completely. Getting the extra labour at silage time can be an issue, so it would be harder again if we were cutting grass more often,” James responded.

“A lot of our land is quite heavy, so getting a late cut of grass could be difficult in most years. Lifting three cuts off some of our fields is good enough going as it is,” he added.

Staggering turnout and quiet calving time

Turnout for youngstock has been delayed on the Martin farm this spring, as below-par grass growth has left covers light on grazing ground.

“We got 40 in-calf heifers turned out in mid-April. Another batch of 40 or so got out a fortnight ago. These were maiden heifers and heifers that were served, but haven’t been scanned yet,” James said.

There are still 30 maiden heifers housed at present and, with grass supplies remaining tight, they are likely to stay in for a few more weeks.

It is starting to quieten down in the calving shed and cows that are due over the next three months are served with beef bulls. James likes calving to slacken during summer months, as they are busy in the fields.

He only uses beef semen on cows that are due from May onwards, as he finds it harder to calve heifers by 24 months of age if they are born in the summer and are weaned in the autumn or early winter.

Average daily yields in the milking herd are holding up well at 29.5 litres/cow.

There are a batch of cows in late lactation and due for drying off over the coming weeks. A wave of dairy-sired calves from these cows will arrive from mid-August onwards.

“The milking cows are being fed 2019’s second-cut silage. This silage kept well and is good quality. It analysed with a metabolisable energy of 11.5MJ/kg. The cows are in two groups and 11kg of meal is being fed on average,” James said.

Weekly round-up

  • Conditions have been extremely variable across Dairylink Ireland farms over the past week.
  • Wet weather and tight grass supplies meant cows had to be temporarily housed on some programme farms, but cows were able to remain at grass elsewhere.
  • First-cut silage has been ensiled on more Dairylink farms since last week and slurry is being spread for second cut.