Another year, another drought. Our farm is an odd contradiction, while the outfarms are heavy and mostly unaffected by dry spells, the main grazing platform is on a deep pit of gravel.

The gravel gives us good drainage though it still has the typical Cavan clay-type soil, making it vulnerable to poaching in heavy downpours.

Spring grazing is a juggling act because of this but it does mean we can get some early grazing. Summer though is another matter.

The fields on the south face of the drumlins, that are such a feature of our geography, are the first to burn, but it’s when the heavier peat soils start to show their moisture deficit that we can really get concerned.

Thankfully though the rains have now arrived and spurred on grass growth, releasing the nitrogen we spread three weeks ago.

My concern was that the rain would be heavy and wash the protected urea through the soil due to how cracked and fractured it had become. Looking at growth rates however, it seems my concerns were unfounded.

I feel that managing nitrogen in dry periods will be essential to preserving water quality in the future as we are predicted to get more dry spells.

Overall we have reduced nitrogen use this year and were able to skip a round during the good growth in May due to the high level of clover in the sward.

It has been four months since the multispecies sward received its last application, although my battle with weeds in it is still ongoing.


During the dry spell the multispecies easily outperformed the clover/grass fields. Although it too ground to a halt with the dry weather, we managed to get an entire additional grazing out of it over the rest of the paddocks.

Although clover and ryegrass now make up the majority, the chicory and plantain really came into their own, with their deeper roots drawing up more moisture.

Recently I’ve been looking at the next fields due to be reseeded, and will use more multispecies next year.

The first consideration is whether they are drought-prone and if so, would they benefit most as multispecies for heavier soils seem a bit away yet. Due to the difficulty with weed control, my next consideration is the weed pressure.

To ensure a clean field next year I will be spraying with a selective herbicide soon and probably again in late spring before reseeding in summer.

It is difficult to really get advice as to the risk of residual of spray, and the impact that could have on chicory and plantain establishment.

New solutions

The field is really evolving, with so many farmers trying new practices and finding new solutions. It’s a growing area of focus for formal research too.

I attended Teagasc’s Johnstown Castle Open day recently and spoke to Dr John Finn whose work is really focused on multispecies. He highlighted to me that there is some work in trials at the moment, but it is still in the early stages.

Some farmers are even looking at including species like yarrow, additional herbs and even older grass species like cocksfoot and timothy.

Needless to say, when mentioned to my father about cocksfoot his reaction was fairly predictable given his generation had spent decades trying to wipe it out.

The plans for the robotic milking unit have advanced further, with planning under way for the layout that would best suit. It seems that it takes a great deal of expertise to get the right positioning of the robot to maximise cow flow and visits to the unit.

The layout of passes to the paddocks and grazing gates, controlling which way they will go once they are done milking, in an ABC system is also vitally important.

Some building work will need to be done, as we have revised plans around replacing the milking parlour so as to give ourselves comfort when switching over.