Having been delayed by a number of weeks due to poor weather, the late burst of August sun this week means that Richard and John Marshall will get third-cut silage completed.

The good weather means that this third cut will be harvested in textbook conditions, with the 70 acres cut and wilted for 24 hours before being picked up.

Richard is using an inoculant additive at ensiling. The Marshalls are also planning to harvest their 20 acres of wholecrop this week, as the grains are still at the cheesy ripe stage.

Richard and John are milking 130 high-yielding cows just outside the town of Omagh, Co Tyrone. Farming a total of 100ha, they are not going to miss the opportunity brought about by the fine weather and intend to get 20 acres of the grazing platform reseeded this week.

As for routine tasks, cows continue to be dried off weekly in the run-up to autumn calving, with 20 cows dried off in the past two weeks.

Third-cut and wholecrop is being harvested on the Marshall farm this week.

Richard says cows are drying off in good body condition score, with an average score of 3. Cows close to calving are housed indoors and fed a total mixed ration of grass silage, straw, pre-calver concentrate and minerals.

The silage these cows are on is deliberately low in potash, with no slurry or compound fertiliser applied when the grass was closed for silage.

The first of the cows are due to calve by the end of the month. September and October will be the busiest months for calving, but it will continue right up to next spring.

One of the things Richard is trying to improve on the farm is fertility in order to compress calving into a tighter block, which will make management of cows easier, particularly in spring, with more of the cows at the same stage of lactation.

This is a high-output herd, with current average levels of performance of 8,374l/cow/year, with a corresponding milk solids yield of 635kg/cow/year from 2,540kg concentrate/cow/year and a margin over concentrate of £1,720/cow/year.

Watch the webinar: 13 September

An online open day on the Marshall farm is set to take place on Monday 13 September at 8pm.

At this online event, Richard Marshall will discuss with CAFRE advisers Jane Sayers and Aidan Cushnahan his key lessons to date from his participation in the Dairylink programme and the future direction of the farm.

Dairylink farmer Richard Marshall.

A large part of the Marshall farm is available for the cows to graze and one of the big changes over the last few years has been to make better use of this resource by investing in grazing infrastructure, such as improving roadways, access points and water supply.

Alongside this, Richard has upskilled in grassland management and now routinely measures average farm cover and grass growth.

A key part of this journey is improving soil fertility to both increase grass growth and also to make better use of fertilisers, because all nutrients are more available when soil fertility, particularly pH, is on target.

Results from the soil analysis in early 2020 show that 65% of the Marshall farm had a soil pH greater than 6.1.

With phosphorus (P) levels, the optimal level for intensive grazing in Northern Ireland is index 2+ and 78% of Richard’s farm had a score of 3 or more.

For grazing and silage crops, a potassium (K) index of 2- is seen as optimal and the soil analysis results showed that 38% of the farm was below this level.

The results suggest that there is little need to apply chemical P fertiliser to most of the farm.

Instead, attention will be focused on maximising the use of slurry and chemical K where there is a K deficiency. Additional lime is also being applied to low-pH soils. A business plan has been developed for the farm business, which aims to increase the cash available for personal drawings, taxation and paying existing loans.

The projections are based on current levels of performance and anticipated improvements.

Key drivers of this change are increasing herd size, increasing milk output through better feed efficiency, feed quality and genetics to improve fat and protein percent.