In 2015, the Farmers Journal visited a part-time farmer who was just after buying 16 acres of land adjoining his home block in Roscommon. It was all in one block and there were no internal fences. The land was farmed intensively for a number of years. As a result, it had become poor in terms of fertility. Rough grasses, rushes and scrub were endemic throughout. Some of the ground was peaty and low-lying, while some of it would be considered dry. Part of the land contained a hill with a steep gradient. The low-lying parts had water sitting stagnant that could not drain away.
Estimated annual growth was low, at 2t DM/ha to 3t DM/ha. The farmer was running a contract-rearing enterprise and his plan after acquiring the new land was to increase heifer numbers. Before this could happen, he was going to have to make considerable investments in the land to make it productive and easier to run.
When we visited in August 2015, we featured the land in the paper in its original state and put out a request for your feedback and ideas. From there, we made a plan with the farmer to implement:
Table 1 shows all the main infrastructural investments the farmer had spent on this 16-acre block since the purchase. In total, £1,187/acre had been spent. Below, we give a brief outline of how and why these investments were made.
All existing drains were cleaned out with a digger. Open drains in the neighbouring land were cleaned to ensure that the water had a place to go and the flow rate would increase. A large drain was dug to a depth of 2ft at one end, moving down to 3ft at the outlet in the drain and a 6in diameter drainage pipe was laid. The pipe was covered with 3in stone all the way to the surface. Collector shores in the low-lying areas feed into this main drain. These shores only contain stone and are 18in to 2ft deep, depending on the ground.
The hill was cleared of the scrub with a mulcher, and a digger levelled the steeper parts to make it safer and easier to carry out machinery work in the future. When all the scrub was cleared, the hill was reseeded.
Paddock and water system
The farmer wanted to install a paddock system to maximise grass growth and simplify herd management.
The block was divided into seven paddocks, with an average size of 2.3 acres. One strand of high-tensile wire and timber stakes were erected for the internal paddocks. Sheep wire was also erected around part of the perimeter to allow sheep to graze.
The farmer now further subdivides wetter paddocks to fully utilise more difficult areas.
Concrete water troughs were placed between paddocks and they are supplied by 0.5in diameter pipes. Stone was laid around the troughs to prevent the area getting mucky and soil eroding away.
The farmer wanted a roadway to make it as easy as possible to handle heifers, especially at breeding time. The roadway was put in directly on top of the land using stone from the local quarry.
In total, 390m of roadway was put in at 10ft wide and 9in to 12in thick, with 1ft of stone put in very wet parts (red rock, which compacts very well).
Originally, the farmer did not plan on much reseeding. He had planned to just reseed the hill after the scrub was cleared. The reason for the minimal reseeding was because he did not want to overspend on his original budget and felt if he had the drainage, paddocks and roadways in place it would be easy to reseed again.
However, some of the low-lying paddocks that had considerable drainage work done had little or no grass growing back. Therefore, he realised he had no choice but to reseed these paddocks to get them back into production after the drainage work. Approximately six acres were reseeded in total. The grass seed used was a mixture of Abergain, Kintyre, Drumbo, Aberchoice and a clover blend at a rate of 1.5 bags to the acre and three bags of 10:10:20 were spread per acre.
After one year, the result speaks for itself. The two photos show the transformation from what was a poor-performing piece of ground to a grazing platform positioned to grow grass which can be easily utilised by livestock.
The wet paddocks have dried up considerably and are unrecognisable from the state they were in one year ago. The paddock system gives the farmer far more control of grass growth.
If grass growth is very high during the summer, he can skip paddocks and make bales of silage. If there is difficult weather, he can avoid grazing the heavier paddocks and he knows damage to paddocks will be limited because heifers are only grazing an area for a short period.
The farmer spread lime on the entire this spring and plans to continue to spread compound fertilisers to increase soil indexes.
Good soil fertility, combined with regular intensive grazing, will encourage grass growth and help pump water out of the ground reducing the chances of rushes and flaggers becoming established again.
The farmer has exceeded the original budget and spent close to €19,000 on the reclamation work.