Adapting to change

Posted on: 8th August, 2018

Category: Farming

Contributor: Tommy Moyles

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.

“He speaks the language of love, calves and the weather.” Back in my teens that’s how a friend of mine described another neighbours ability to keep the conversation flowing with a farming woman of older stock. If she was still alive, I think there would only be one of those topics up for discussion. Weather.

Irish farmers for the most part aren’t used to weather extremes. You could maybe call it Goldilocks farming. We don’t like temperatures too hot or too cold but just right. It’s the same with rain.

Even with close to 20 years experience of day to day involvement on the farm, I still wouldn’t have as many farming miles on the clock as others. However I’m struggling to think of a more mentally draining year than the last twelve months. It’s been relentless. It began raining in much of West Cork in July last year and didn’t stop until early May. We had a hurricane in October, snow in an unprecedented form at the end of February and now much of the country has been declared as in drought.

Fodder stocks

After a spring, which saw fodder stocks and farmers exhausted, all hope was put on a solid grass growing summer to rebuild silage and hay stocks. First cut silage was a little bit lighter in May but it was good to see it in the yard. The weather in June put people back in good humour and the trials of spring were put to the back of their minds.

There have been good summers over my farming career but the dry spells tended to begin in late July not June. Many second cuts of silage have been fed via grazing or zero grazing and of more concern is the fact that in some circumstances some first cut silage has been fed also. Straw has nearly doubled in price and that’s for the winter straw and the availability of straw from spring crops doesn’t look good. There will be a protracted fall out from this summer for a while yet. Indeed it’s very possible that it could take 12 to 18 months before an air of normality returns to many yards.

Milk & Beef Price

It’s of some consolation to dairy farmers in West Cork that both Carbery and Dairygold held their milk price for last month. Retrospective pricing of milk and the co-operative nature of it means there were various supports used to maintain prices and ease pressure a little on farms. The same can’t be said of beef price, as it has hit its annual slump and it is exacerbated by farmers moving on stock to reduce feed demand. There is a danger this could get worse however as there is likely to be further stock sales if there is no improvement in the fodder situation.

The fall out from the drought is affecting feed mills also. They have been operating at levels similar to last April and this is throwing up a new issues for them. Summer would be the traditional downtime in ration production for ruminants so holidays would have been factored in on rosters and trucks and mills would be serviced in this annual down time. Opportunities to do these aren’t as straightforward now.

At home, the main group of cows were receiving a bale of silage a day prior to the TB test. Once that was out of the way they were sent off to clean up a field that had been cut for silage the previous week, putting them there eliminated the need to feed silage for a week. Those seven bales saved will come in use yet. Once they were back from their clean-up duty the plan was to hold them in two or three day paddocks using a bale to gain time. Given that’s it’s a suckler beef farm I run, I’m not under the same pressures as dairy farms, in terms of keeping quality feed in front of cows.


We passed the annual TB test a few weeks ago and it’s a great relief. It probably tops the lists of most unpleasant jobs in the farming year simply because of the helplessness of the situation as it’s completely out of your hands. It’s the uncertainty of it and all plans are put on hold until you get the all clear. The night before the TB reading is probably my most sleepless night of the year.

Passing means relief and plans for the winter and next spring can firm up a bit.

There seems to be a pattern of TB outbreaks in areas that see clear fell of forestry or where large road building projects are undertaken. This leads to wildlife having to leave their own patch.

It may be worth the Department of Agriculture monitoring the TB figures in the area around the county bounds over the next few years with the development of the Macroom by pass.

After testing the bull was removed from the cows so that should put a deadline on the finish of the 2019 calving season. The cows will be scanned in a few weeks time and empties will join the cull group. If a few more than normal don’t hold in-calf due to the warm spell then it would be an easy way of reducing demand for the winter and there is a good heifer calf crop on the ground to step into their place.


Given we’re almost two thirds of the way through 2018 it’s looking more likely that farmers will have to think a bit differently when it comes fodder and bedding for next winter.

This year certainly keeps you thinking that’s for sure and feed wise while you can plan long term we’ve found the need to adapt that plan on a weekly basis. The July and August period is usually the quietest time of year for me. There are some days where the work load consists of counting all stock and making sure they are ok. This year is different but animals are in good condition and are content, which is a big plus. As dad always says, things going wrong keep you on your toes. That’s for sure at the moment.

According to my grandmother and gran aunt, water shortages were a regular issue in Ardfield. The bane of their lives given there was no running water and they had to depend on natural springs and wells. Indeed it was an issue well into their adult lives as it wasn’t until the late 70s when a local group water scheme came to fruition. One neighboring family used to have to walk their cows through a right of way through the land and yard on this farm to get to water. Thankfully we no longer have to queue up at Tobar na feochadain, the well of the thistles, for hours to fill barrels and churns of water daily.

The well was covered in when the land was leased out in the 90s but some of the steps to it are still visible. We take piped water for granted and it makes farming life easier but it’s still relatively new.

Weather extremes

Looking at the averages in terms of weather over a period of years will tell a story. Invariably it balances out over time. With that in mind there is no doubt rain will return and probably with a bang. A farming friend of mine measures rainfall and at the end of April this year he had a similar total rainfall than the end of June 2017. The downside is he’s still short about three feet of average annual rainfall so there’s every chance we will get a metre of rain spread out over the last five months of the year to make up for this summer.

We have worked through major weather events in the last twelve months that we may expect to get one of in a year but not all together.

It may not feel like it now but I think there will be positives to take from these weather extremes we are encountering. Farmers young and old, will learn from our experiences in the last number of months. Teagasc hired a lot of younger staff recently and this year will really stand to them in the long run. 2018 is a bit like an advanced PHD for all of us involved in agriculture.

The important thing for us to realise is that tomorrow is another day and we can get through it. Farmers are a resilient lot – they have to be given the variables they go through each year. While fodder may seem scarce there is time on our side to go through various options to see our stock and businesses survive.


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