A return to some normality on the farm

Posted on: 7th June, 2018

Category: Farming

Contributor: Tommy Moyles

Above: As part of Bloom 2018, Agri Aware (the agri-food educational body), will bring almost 900 primary school students, from over 30 schools around the country, to visit the festival and learn more about growing and farming. Pictured at Agri Aware’s Bloom garden are Anna Healy and Emma Moore from Galway. Picture: Patrick Browne

There is finally an air of normality creeping in on the farm. The 2018 breeding season has been underway for a few weeks with the bull going in with the heifers at the start of May and breeding commenced for the cows three weeks later. We predominantly use bulls instead of AI, as our land is fragmented. This results in an increased workload in bringing cattle into the yard daily for an AI technician. The main calving season ended at the start of May but there is one straggler. She is due at the end of the month.

Calving

Despite the challenges encountered this spring, we experienced one of our calmer calving seasons. I don’t know what to put it down to but there was only about two panic days and they were the result of trying to hit deadlines for off farm work, as well as weather dictating when we got to clean out sheds. We like to give both the calving area and the cow house a clean out just before half way through calving, but this year it was closer to 75 per cent calved before we got around to that job. Cleaning then reduces the build-up of any disease issues.

Average birth weight for the year was 41kg. There was a big range in calf birth weights with the lightest being one of a set of twins at 26kg. The heaviest calf weighed 58kg. I’ve been weighing calves at birth for a number of years and have a preference for a smaller calf. It’s easier on the cow and the calves are all go once they are born. Some try to stand within minutes of being born. It’s fascinating and something I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of watching.

Crops

Nationally the area sown to tillage crops is set fall below 300,000ha for the first time. According to the Irish Farmers Journal, early figures from farmers’ Basic Payment Scheme applications for 2018 indicate a drop of over five per cent across all crops.

After one of the most difficult planting seasons, some spring crops such as oats and wheat had to be skipped. This was due to the season running too late for these crops. A late surge saw increased planting of barley, beet and maize, offsetting reductions in all other crops. Maize acreage has seen the biggest increase with a 50 per cent rise in planting, with over 16,000ha of crop sown. Beet acreage is poised to increase by over 10 per cent, with over 10,000ha of fodder beet alone, and another 700ha of sugar beet.

Spring barley is the dominant grain crop this year with a surge of seven per cent to 122,000ha. This is more than all the winter crops combined.

Total cereal acreage will, according to these figures, fall close to the 250,000ha threshold for the first time. This could have a knock on effect in the supply of straw in the autumn.

Winter wheat acreage fell by 6,500ha to under 53,000ha. Winter barley dropped by a similar amount to 56,000ha, an 11 per cent drop.

While farmers were under pressure earlier this year the workload seems to have shifted to contractors now.

While normally there is a bit of a break between planting and the start of the silage-cutting season, the two have crossed over this year. This means contractors will have had a busier schedule than usual and, like most other sectors, they are facing a challenge in trying to attract labour.

Dairy

On the dairy side, milk price continues to slide, however both Carbery and Dairygold have maintained the price for April milk using supports. While prices for some dairies commodities are back, butter continues to be in demand. The fact there is a rise in crude oil price also tends to have a positive impact on dairy prices so there is a small bit of optimism that the worst of the price drops are coming to an end.

Beef

Beef prices have held firm this spring and are rising at present. Annually prices tend to peak from mid-April through to Early June. This happens due to a drop off in supply as cattle finished in sheds come to a halt and cattle that get to grass early would only start to get fit for slaughter around this time. It will be interesting to see if prices can hold into July this year given the challenging grazing conditions this spring.

Fodder and silage stocks

On many farms, replacing depleted fodder stocks is underway. Extra maize and beet sown will be one solution to build volumes quickly. Another option available for farmers is to reduce fodder demand by selling non-essential stock. The winter just gone was a wake up call to Irish agriculture.

Replenishing silage stocks is one of the grass priorities on the home farm. Fortunately we made a decision last autumn to graze fields that are awkward to get cows and calves to in the spring later than usual. This meant we could plan for an earlier silage cut. The cold wet weather put an end to any ideas of a very early cut. The plan was adapted slightly and we should have close to a third of the silage we require harvested.

There’s an element of gambling about silage making. Over time we learned the best thing to do was trust your instinct and go for it.

We moved from making pit silage to bales by accident on this farm. We had to repair the silo floor one year and discovered we were able to get better quality silage by cutting grass more often. Prior to this we had been holding up a large percentage of the farm at a time when cows needed good quality grass for breeding.

There’s generally a baler on the farm once fortnight over the summer. It’s a change from when there used to be about three silage days in the year when I was growing up. A first and second cut of pit silage and a cut of bales on rented ground.

The best way to describe silage to the uninitiated is that it is vacuum-packed grass. Once the trailers unload the chopped grass into the silo area it is compacted by an industrial loader. This is to get as much air as possible out of the pit and reduce the risk of the silage spoiling.

The excitement of watching the tractors picking up the grass and the field transforming from green to yellow were tempered by the realisation that the pit had to be covered. A few sheets of plastic film generally weighed down by hundreds of old tyres is the standard.

Spirits weren’t the only things dampened when it came around to covering the pit. I remember getting soaked every year as a winter’s worth of rain splashed out of the tyres that were thrown on the plastic.

Wind is almost constant in a coastal location like Ardfield and it could be a help and a hindrance at silage covering time. On one occasion it lifted the plastic sheet over the mound of silage and landed it clean on the other side. More often than not wind flapped the edges of the plastic spraying us in dirty water, freshly cut grass and pine needles that found their way into the tyres from nearby trees.

Show season

Out and about agricultural show season has kicked off.

Shows were a big part of growing up in our house. There was almost one every weekend, from Bandon in late May to Ballingeary in late August.

In recent years shows have come under varying pressures. A rise in insurance costs puts a major strain on finances. Another challenge is getting people to commit their time voluntarily. Everybody seems to have a busier life these days.

They have evolved over the years and in the urban areas at least they offer a glimpse into aspects of rural life to those from a non-farming background.

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