In his farming diary, West Cork suckler farmer and columnist with the Irish Farmers Journal, Tommy Moyles covers the lay of the land across all agri and farming enterprises – news, views and people in farming across West Cork and further afield.
Generally from early October paddocks are closed up and not used for grazing again until next spring. This is done in rotation with the paddocks you want to use first in the spring being closed first. This is to allow grass covers to build up for use in early spring.
It takes a while to train yourself to do this. You could even call it restrain rather than training. The temptation to graze regrowths can be strong, especially if the weather is similar to what we have received these last few weeks.
Due to the difficult planting season in April and May there was a lot more maize planted this year. As it produces a lot of dry matter it proved to be a popular planting choice. On the back of good weather, it thrived and was harvested much earlier in comparison to other years. It’s all grass that I grow on my own farm but some Maize nearby was damaged by Storm Ali and blown over. As a result of this, harvesting proved more difficult and since then over the eastern horizon of the farm we are treated to a daily blackout in the form of a huge gathering of crows every evening.
Settled weather has allowed farmers planting winter crops to do so almost at their leisure and some crops have already emerged.
As a reaction to the drought experienced by farmers this summer, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed, introduced a Fodder Production Incentive Scheme.
This encouraged tillage farmers to plant fodder crops and shortterm fast-growing grass varieties in an effort to reduce the fodder deficit that had developed on many farms. The scheme saw 20,000ha of fodder crops sown on tillage land. These are growing well and are on course to produce 80,000t of fodder dry matter. This is the equivalent of up to 400,000 bales of fresh silage and it will make a significant contribution to lessening the national fodder deficit. Grass varieties such as Westerworlds, which is generally a one season high yielding Italian ryegrass, is capable of producing two cuts from when it was planted in early August and the end of October.
Another measure introduced was an extension of two weeks on slurry spreading dates. Thankfully the weather played ball on this and it was put out in near perfect ground conditions. The dry weather through October has proved a Godsend to farmers and will go a long way to take pressure off in terms of housing and fodder. On many farms last year cattle were in since mid September and on wetter farms even earlier.
High throughput continues to be a standout feature of the beef trade with numbers from August up about 2,000 head per week on average compared to last year.
The higher weekly beef kill brings total throughput for the year-to-date to 51,086 head higher. While farmers are unhappy with current beef prices they could be much lower. What is putting a floor under prices is the fact that the average carcass weight is lower so actual quantities of beef is not much ahead of the corresponding time last year.
There was no change in September milk prices for West Cork suppliers with both Carbery and Dairygold holding their respective positions.
Reduction of sheep breeding flock
The continued reduction of the sheep breeding flock shows a disconnect between Meat Industry Ireland (MII) plan to increase sheep meat production and the economic reality for farmers.
At home I lost a cow in mid October. She was a first calver that showed up with a high presence of worms in autumn 2017. After recovering well and successfully calving unassisted in Marc, she was one of a handful of cows that got treated for worms at testing in July and was in superb condition until the middle of September. Unfortunately she went downhill in recent weeks and went off eating despite further dosing. Thriving until late September, she then started to go backwards and didn’t respond to further treatment. The flush of grass on the back of August rain worked against her, as dung samples showed a presence of lungworm. There was no coughing but I suspect the damage was done last year when there was a time that I didn’t think she would pull through. The cow produced a decent calf nonetheless so that’s some consolation although it won’t be retained as a replacement. This is because there is a strong chance she might have a low worm burden threshold.
October brought another unexpected event with a phone call from a Department of Agriculture official to say I was selected for a random cross compliance check for animal identification. I don’t know what the equivalent of this is to non-farming readers but there’s nothing to instill panic like a call from a department official about an inspection.
All went smoothly, but at the same time, you still feel on edge. All cattle identification cards were in order and a handful only had single tags. Luckily the replacement tags I ordered arrived on the morning of the inspection.
Weaning is tipping away nicely and by the start of November it will only be the heifers and youngest bull calves left on the cows. Weather conditions and shed availability will dictate when it’s their turn.
Among the agricultural elements introduced in the budget, an increase in the amount of money that will be paid out to Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) was of importance to much of West Cork. This increase restores funding to 2008 levels when money was cut to farmers in the most disadvantaged areas due to the economic downturn.
There is merit in increased payments for those farming in ANC areas but I would be concerned that in the event of future economic difficulty the likes of these payments would come under the pressure again. These areas are likely to come under the most pressure in terms of attracting young people to work in these areas so a bit more thought is required to ensure the communities in these areas can continue.
The budget also saw the announcement of a new suckler scheme in the form of Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot scheme (BEEP). This will entail the weighing of suckler cows and calves in an effort to see how efficient they are. For those who farmed at a time when you received a payment just for having a suckler cow these new schemes require a bit more work. The early suckler cow payments in the 1990s required each farmer to have a quota on what numbers he could have but aside from that there was few other conditions.
Schemes without measurable results are the direction EU payments are likely to go, as European taxpayers look for more bang for their buck.
Weighing of cows and calves at weaning has been standard practice here since 2012, with calves birth weights recorded since 2014. I do it for a number of reasons. It gives a handle on how well a cow is performing in terms of rearing her calf and is a useful tool if a culling decision has to be made. Weighing is also very useful at selling, as you have a good enough handle on what weight the stock are prior to sale and you can budget and make decisions accordingly.
It’s done when each group is convenient to the yard and in conjunction with any other crush work so it’s not an ordeal by any means. It’s also a super way to observe calves behavior as they stand on the scales. Some just stand there while a small number dance about a bit too much and justify the decision not to retain replacement heifers from certain cows.
Carbery opened its doors to suppliers at the start of October to mark the occasion of milk being processed at its Ballineen facility. I availed of the opportunity to take a tour and it was fantastic to see what it is possible to do with the raw material of milk. Cheese, whey protein and alcohol are among some of the products that are derived through various processes at the plant. This was a fantastic initiative by the company allowing farmers the chance to see how value is added to the milk they supply.
It has to be remembered that this plant is the conduit of how a lot of money enters the greater West Cork area and that spins down, not just to farmers and employees, but right through to shops, services and indeed local communities.
The foresight of those who were behind the venture has to be commended. They took action rather than wait for it to happen and that thinking has continued with the Carbery Research and Development programme, well thought of within the dairy sector. Indeed the milk price paid out by each of the four co-ops behind Carbery is the envy of dairy farmers throughout the country.