Ryan Young farms a mixed suckler and sheep farm with his father, John, on Curryfree Road, Newbuildings, Co. Londonderry.
Their enterprise consists of a spring calving herd of 55 cows and 150 ewes.
They have made significant efforts across the farm to improve grassland management and improve the home farm’s soil fertility.
Hannah McNelis, CAFRE Beef and Sheep Adviser, explained that annual soil sampling has highlighted deficits in lime and potash levels on the farm. Regular liming has greatly helped in the production of more grass with slurry and muriate of potash used to maintain soil nutrients.
Ryan has had his silage sampled through his Business Development Group (BDG) over the last few years, seeing a year-on-year improvement in quality due to better grass management.
In 2020 Ryan availed of a platemeter and a year’s subscription to AgriNet through his BDG.
He began measuring grass in the summer of 2020, measuring on a weekly basis, and working with Hannah to produce a grass wedge.
“We had been using rotational grazing in the last 4 years. We reseeded a block of 10ha, and paddock grazing was the best way we could make the most of new grass.”
Ryan set up the fixed divisions of his paddocks using three strands of high tensile wire with heavy-duty insulators onto wooden posts for sheep and single strand wire for cows and calves.
Using reels, he then subdivided the area into 1ha paddocks. “The reels work well as they can be easily removed for fertilising and cutting bales.”
Ryan ran two mobs of stock around the paddocks for the summer. One consists of 80 twin bearing ewes and 18 bullocks, and the other: 34 cows and calves. He moved stock every three days following the grass wedge with heavy covers cut out for bales.
Furthermore, he brought water to sheep paddocks by extending the water pipe from existing drinkers in some fields and allowing drinkers to service two paddocks at a time.
He serviced cattle paddocks with a water bowser and filled weekly. “This year, I hope to extend the water pipe down to the cattle paddocks to reduce labour and time.”
“Last year, there was a fairly significant amount of time spent on the set up of the paddocks. But, this year, it is a real benefit to have everything set up and ready.”
Surplus grass on mixed suckler and sheep farm
Hannah highlights that growth has been slow on the paddocks in the spring of 2021. However, Ryan has started measuring weekly since the beginning of May.
“This year has been more challenging with lower grass growth. We would have had several surplus paddocks cut for bales by now, but we don’t have that luxury this year”.
Ewes grazed silage ground until the end of March, and by measuring opening covers on the paddocks, Ryan knew when there was enough grass cover to maintain the ewes.
“As measuring continues, I will add more stock to meet the grass growth. It is different to last year’s approach, but it will work itself out in the coming weeks.”
“I plan to have the cows grouped together on the paddocks in the first days of June to prepare for the breeding season.”
Ryan finds that measuring allows him to monitor grass growth on the farm and act if there is a surplus.
A major benefit of the system has been the improved handling of stock. “The stock gets used to being moved, and they’re very quiet to work with.”
“As the calves get older, they graze ahead of the cows under the wire, always getting the best quality grass.”
It only takes an hour in the week to measure the paddocks, time which ties in with checking stock and moving fences.