Important to get nitrogen fertiliser on to grassland soon

Teagasc nutritionist Dr Siobhán Kavanagh has advised that the most important fodder crisis action is to get nitrogen fertiliser on to grassland as soon as weather and ground conditions permit.

“The nitrogen will be there to boost grass growth once soil temperatures rise. In the meantime, most farmers short of fodder will have to purchase additional feed or fodder,” said Dr Kavanagh.

The key messages from Teagasc this week were:

*Apply fertiliser as soon as the weather permits.

*The first rotation should extend to April 10 in the south and slightly later in the northern half of the country.

* If you are completely out of forage, you have to purchase some. Animals will not survive on concentrates alone.

* Pay no more than €25-30/bale for silage. Pit silage, of the same quality, is worth 10% more.

* Protect the herd’s productive capacity. Your 2-3 kg of meals now will solve a lot of problems.

* Minimising body weight loss and getting milking cows and sucklers with calves at foot in calf is critical. They should not be fed high quantities of straw to replace silage.

* If you have animals for finishing, reduce the demand for fodder and switch to feeding ad lib meals with minimum roughage.

* If cashflow is tight, talk to the bank, local adviser, or merchant.

* Consider selling some surplus stock, where it makes economical sense to do so.

*There is help available to deal with the current fodder situation, talk to the local Teagasc adviser — whether you are a client or not.

Dr Kavanagh said: “Each farmer’s situation will be different, so it’s important to get specific advice. The preferred option in most cases is to buy concentrate feed to supplement scarce fodder until grass is available.”

Last week, Teagasc at Moorepark were feeding 4kg of concentrate plus 4kg of high quality baled silage to stretch out the first rotation. The grass allocation was only 5.2kg — a very low proportion of the diet by Moorepark standards.

IFA deputy president Eddie Downey said: “At this point, there is huge pressure on many farm families to secure fodder and maintain the necessary levels of cashflow to run their business and pay their bills.”

He called on co-ops, feed mills and banks to stand by farmer customers during this very difficult period. “Farmers should take stock of what winter fodder they have, and if they have surplus, they should make it available now to those who are in short supply.” He said, “The weather will take up and grass growth will come. Commodity prices in dairy, beef and lamb are looking strong for the year, and farmers will pay their bills when they are in a position to do so.” He urged farmers who are under pressure to contact their Teagasc adviser, their local IFA officer or a neighbour to discuss their difficulties.

Independent MEP Marian Harkin has warned that many farmers are at mental exhaustion levels due to their lack of animal feed and, in many cases, the lack of funds to bridge the period when animals could be put out to graze.

*Meanwhile, farmers in Northern Ireland fear tens of thousands of animals may have died as a result of heavy snowfalls. In Co Antrim, snow drifts 18 feet deep prevented farmers from reaching livestock early this week.

Ulster Farmers’ Union deputy president Barclay Bell said the snow had also caused serious problems for some rural families living in isolated areas.


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