The fantastic grass growing conditions earlier in the year very much offset rising fertiliser and meal costs, and my primary plan for the rest of the season was to cross my fingers and hope for continuing favourable weather.

With almost no artificial applied to grazing swards (my land would be in good heart due to decades of poultry litter and farmyard manure applications) and middens and slurry storage waiting to be emptied, I really thought I had dodged a bullet. Then a good dry summer turned into something approaching drought conditions, and all of a sudden that warm, cosy feeling was replaced with mild panic.

Susan and I went on our holidays to England in late August, and I derived no end of pleasure from observing thousands of acres of pasture that was much less green than our swards at home.

I strenuously applied the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ line of thought for the remaining 10 days of our vacation, and at night I dreamt about thunderous showers at home, and how I would cope with the flush of rich grass and clover upon my return.


Back home, Monday 5 September provided a huge reality check, and an early morning walk across the farm made me realise that there was going to be no great flush of autumn grass without buying fertiliser.

If that wasn’t bad enough, I weighed a batch of 40 lambs that had been on inadequate pasture, and they responded in kind by putting on almost no weight while I had been away.

In addition, the ram lambs among them handled poorly, and the only bit of them that appeared to have grown significantly was their testicles. Nothing looks as horrible as a male lamb with a dry coat, a sharp protruding backbone and a magnificent scrotum.

Something had to be done.


The debate inside my head centred on fertiliser at £700/t or concentrate at nearly £400. Most of us have been in this situation many times, but never with inputs at these levels.

Cattle slurry has been applied sparingly too, and the older dairy heifers are eating one bale of silage per day to slow up their rotation

An added consideration was the silage situation, although the strong growing conditions in April and May ensured that there were a few spare bales to include in all calculations.

The upshot of my head scratching is that a couple of tonnes of nitrogen was spread thinly over 40 acres (30 units/acre), and two batches of 30 lambs have been started on meal.

Cattle slurry has been applied sparingly too, and the older dairy heifers are eating one bale of silage per day to slow up their rotation and maybe build up a bit of grass for October grazing.

Most importantly, two inches of rain fell at the same time, and you could nearly hear the grass growing in response.

It is early days, but things don’t currently look as dire as they did at the beginning of September.

Changed approach

In past years, I have regularly applied a light dressing of cattle slurry, and topped it up with a bag and a half of nitrogen. But this belt and braces approach has been abolished for now, and I can honestly admit to being judicious in the extreme with my fertiliser applications this year.

  • Those top rigs of fields where the ewes lie at night and refuse to eat? No fertiliser.
  • Below the row of ash trees where the cattle love to spend time chatting among themselves? No fertiliser.
  • Anywhere that there was evidence of heavier than desired toppings? No fertiliser.
  • If you had watched my hand on the button of the control box, you’d have sworn you were watching a committed environmentalist, and not just some miserable old farmer, scared of wasting a few pounds.

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