DAERA Management Notes: Dairying

Target slurry spreading onto silage fields that have tested low for phosphate and potash
Target slurry spreading onto silage fields that have tested low for phosphate and potash

Introduction: Many thanks to Trevor Alcorn for writing the Management Notes over the past six months. This responsibility has now passed to me, Christopher Breen. I am a CAFRE Dairying Development Adviser in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone area.


Always think safety on the farm. Many of you are mixing and spreading slurry at this time so be aware of the danger from slurry gases. Follow the HSENI guidelines. Slurry gases are produced in large volumes soon after starting to mix. So think through and plan all aspects of slurry mixing and handling on your farm.

Nutrient management

You can reduce your fertiliser bill this spring by making the best use of soil nutrients and available slurry, but still grow good crops of grass for silage and grazing.

As fields have been unfertilized since mid September and free of applied slurry from the end of October they are in the ideal state for soil sampling before slurry or fertiliser is applied. Soil sampling augers and bags/boxes are available from your local DAERA Direct office. Test each field and if the field is more than four hectares, test each four hectare block within the field. Call into your local DAERA Direct office now to book an auger for immediate sampling.

Optimum use of slurry

You will receive your soil analysis results within the week and your local Development Adviser can help you interpret them. Your results can be fed into the DAERA online services CAFRE Crop Nutrient Recommendation calculator to calculate specific field requirements, whilst keeping within nitrates and phosphorus regulations.The calculator takes account of the time and method of slurry application when calculating how much fertiliser nitrogen to apply for first cut silage.

As grazing fields generally have phosphate and potash recycled by grazing cattle, apply slurry to land that is used for silage, targeting fields that have tested low for phosphate and potash. This makes best use of the soil and slurry nutrients and helps avoid nutrient shortfalls where there is greatest demand.

Allow for slurry nitrogen when deciding how much nitrogen fertiliser to apply for first cut later in the spring. There is unlikely to be a yield response to applying a total of more than 120 kg of nitrogen per hectare for first cut. If you use a trailing shoe or shallow injection system to apply slurry you will almost double the efficiency of nitrogen use.

The optimum index of 2 for phosphorus (P) and 2- for potassium (K) will maximise crop yield from the most economic use of inputs. Further applications of P or K to soils with above optimum indices are not cost effective. In addition applications of phosphate above the recommended rates in most cases will be in breach of the nitrates regulations.  

At CAFRE Greenmount, the policy is to spread slurry onto the first cut silage area. A splash-plate application of 33 cubic metres per hectare (3000 gallons per acre) of cattle slurry in February/early March supplies all the required phosphate and potash for first cut silage and approximately the same nitrogen for grass growth as two 50 kg bags of 27% N.

February jobs checklist:

The first day for spreading slurry is 1st February. Do not spread slurry on waterlogged ground, when raining heavily or when heavy rain is forecast within the next 48 hours, on ground that has a slope of 20% or more, is frozen or covered in snow.

If you applied to the EU Milk Reduction Scheme for the October to December 2016 period the claim form should be submitted to the RPA by midnight on 14 February 2017.

Complete any maintenance on cow tracks and paddock fencing in preparation for the grazing season.

If you need information on any of these topics contact your local CAFRE Dairying Development Adviser.