In terms of soil fertility and increasing the P and K indices on Tullamore Farm, how are you going to go about doing that and how long do you think it will take?
It’s very hard to know how long it will take to improve soil indices. Regular soil sampling is important to make sure you aren’t depleting soils that are in good order while trying to build others.
Applying a buildup rate of P and K is important, but adding organic manures is also important to build soil health, which will help with soil function.
Soil pH is high on the farm. If it was low, like it is on many farms, that would be the first place to start.
If soil pH isn’t right, it’s very difficult to build soil indices.
Are you better to spread a compound fertiliser or spread a higher P and K compound in the autumn to try to build soil fertility levels? Can slurry play a role?
On very low indices, it takes a bit of both. We have a habit of front-loading P and K on farms and this makes sense to a certain extent as P and K might become more easily available from soil as the ground heats up.
There’s nothing wrong with applying a little bit of P and K throughout the year, but on low-index soils, it makes sense to apply in the back-end of the year.
Applying farmyard manure is a good option in the autumn. This will help to improve soil structure and organic matter levels.
It must be very difficult running ewes and lambs along with cows and calves in a paddock system when you are splitting paddocks. How do you do it?
It doesn’t come without its challenges. In order for it to be a success, adequate fencing must be in place.
Currently, farm manager Shaun Diver divides each permanent paddock with a single strand of electric wire. This allows the sheep to graze ahead of the cattle. In truth, they tend to spend most of their time away from the cattle.
Sheep will move a day ahead of cattle to the next paddock and the cows will clean out whatever is left.
Is it hard to get contractors in to take out small areas of the farm with low covers? Do they charge extra for it?
It will depend on your location and more so your contractor.
On Tullamore Farm, mowing, raking and baling is all be included in the per-bale price for a normal silage crop.
For smaller areas or paddocks, mowing and raking is charged on top of the per-bale rate. This brings the cost up to almost €20/bale, which is expensive but it provides a high-quality feed for winter and, also, it is a key tool in managing grass quality during the grazing season.
How long does it take to do the weekly grass walk and is it a good use of your time?
The walk takes about two hours every week. This includes putting all the data into the PastureBase app as you go. It provides a huge benefit to the farm.
Shaun says it is the most important job of the week as it allows him to make grazing decisions with confidence and he can plan for any potential grass supply issues 10 days to two weeks before they actually materialise.
In terms of farming in a more environmentally friendly way, what’s the single biggest thing that Tullamore Farm can do to help improve things?
One thing that all farms will have to do is reduce nitrogen use in the coming years.
By improving P and K levels and working on maintaining and increasing clover levels on the farm, this can be done. It’s important not to cut back dramatically on nitrogen either.
Our soils have to adapt and many farmers who have cut nitrogen rates will often say they cut back too quickly and yields suffered as a result.
If we cut back gradually, clover could start to increase in the swards and the cut in nitrogen could go relatively unnoticed.