Emma McCormack, a final-year Agriculture student is back with her next update.
I have just touched down on home turf after my eighth flight this year - I am getting restless being in the same place for too long. The college year rears its head once again – my last year potentially.
I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again, and being able to dictate my hours myself. I know I’ll be absent for the Ploughing Championships anyway, and it’s up to myself to keep up to scratch with the books that week!
Last weekend I flew to Scotland, back to where it all began this year. Catching a flight I wasn’t sure I wanted to back in January, ended up being a very good decision.
It was a long, hard spring at Nether Garrel farm, for the cows and the staff. Grass took a very long time to appear and conditions were tough for new-born calves. A touch of salmonella knocked younger, weaker calves for six.
There were days spent religiously tubing and dripping calves with colostrum and electrolytes, to ensure each one was looked after as well as possible.
Many farmers may have packed up shop and got rid of the lot. However, when I strolled around the farm last weekend, I could directly see why nobody gave up.
It wasn’t an option. I watched healthy, young calves race around the paddock in the sun and it was hard to believe that any of them had ever been in as dire a state as they once were.
A LONG SPRING
Back then, cows spent a long spring in the sheds, and if they got out for a few hours in the day to eat a bit of available grass, we were lucky. Since then they have been outside full-time; reached their peak; litres have now begun to drop.
Breeding has gone well, and staff now have a chance to relax a little or take holidays before the pace picks up again. At the moment, cows are doing 15-litres a day, with 1.4 milk solids. Lameness is a bit of an issue, as on most dairy farms, especially with the scale of the operation.
Astroturf on roadways gives cows feet a break, as they walk to and from the parlour. The team have done hoof care courses, to be able to deal with lame cows promptly and efficiently. This is a huge benefit to such a large-scale enterprise.
The stock are looking good though – the drought offered serious growth once rain finally came, and the cows are reaping the rewards now.
PLENTY OF GRASS AND MORE COWS
An impressive 85% of the herd is in-calf after 6 weeks, and herd size is being increased from 480 to 650 this year. As a result of this, new housing options are being considered for the coming spring.
All calves are being reared this year, with the introduction of some decent beef breeds into the AI programme.
Previously, bull calves were being sold at a young age. No cows have been scanned as empty yet. In only the second year of breeding, the numbers speak for themselves.
The surplus growth following the severe drought has provided the opportunity to produce third cut silage, filling 2 pits, as well as having a supply of bales to fall back on.
Currently, there is no silage being incorporated in the diet, cows are receiving 2kg of cake at each milking.
The stocking rates are low (2.4 LU/ha) so good quality grass along with a little bit of supplementary cake in the shed is sufficient. Their demand at the moment is 50 kg DM, with growth at 58 kg DM/ha.
The average paddock cover is around 800 kg DM/ha. Residuals have come along way since the heifers first began to graze in February, but a better clean out is always possible.
The last round of grazing approaches in the first week of October. There is an element of skill involved in knowing how hard to push the cows without sacrificing litres. Anyone can farm – but not just anyone can excel at It.
What I have noted is how clean the farm is. It was a journey like any other, after a tough spring, to get the yard to being as tidy and well-maintained as possible.
Figures are very important, but so is the appearance. It’s good to have a little extra time during the summer to get on top of odd jobs you hadn’t time for before, such as organising the yard and reseeding for example. The pressure is on to produce more grass this year, even better quality than last year, but I have no doubt this will be achieved. Nether Garrel is such a self-sufficient farm now, the bulk of the herd can go through the parlour in an hour.
NOBODY LIKES THE BIG GUYS
There is often a little begrudgery in Irish farming, of the big guys. The ones with over 300 cows, the ones pulling in the dollar bills. “They are greedy, they are ruthless, and farming loses its personal approach with then”, is often the consensus.
I have no time for this sort of outlook. The focus on profit is something that should be at the forefront of every farm.
A farm is a business, the purpose of which is to generate a profit from goods or services. There are too many Irish farmers struggling now and blaming it on everyone but themselves. It’s because of the weather, it’s because of the government, its because of the milk price. I’ve heard it all before.
We have one farm making a decent profit and being able to expand, when others say it’s impossible to break even? Budgeting, planning, good record keeping and teamwork are the only secrets that these big successful farmers have.
A BUSINESS REGARDLESS OF SIZE
There is nothing wrong with having a small herd – each to their own, but when the land is there, why not put cows on it? Any farm can do well, when operated properly, in my opinion.
Sometimes you must be a little ruthless, to do well. If you’re happy to tip along, with enough to get by each year and buy a new jeep or tractor every now and again, good for you. Just don’t begrudge anyone who is doing otherwise.
I couldn’t get over how little grass there is on some Irish farms, since coming home. The climate is identical in Scotland, where Nether Garrel farm is.
Yet there was any amount of high-quality grass there. I think it is down to the farming. Drystock farmers here are getting shafted with factory prices and this is taking from their profit, yet a lot of them have never measured grass in their lives and are still using set stocking methods of grazing.
This leads to huge meal bills, poaching of the land, extended recovery time, and the need to supplement the diet to finish animals.
I can see this happening at home, right in front of me. What do you think, am I being too harsh, or is it quite possible for any farmer to profit somewhat, even in a less bountiful year?