On a scale of one to John Deere underpants, I’m about a six in terms of tractor love. They’re there for a job – breeding and growing stock is where my passion lies. And yet ...
There’s a part of every Irish agricultural male that yearns to drive as part of a silage convoy. We’re programmed to enjoy it; just as we are to smell the ration at a farm walk and say “it’s not a bad setup” rhetorically to a total stranger.
Our convoy consisted of a rake, a McHale Fusion and me on collection duty. The giant blades whirred rhythmically into life, like the propellers on those planes that fly to Knock, before flinging the silage neatly into rows for subsequent gobbling by Mr McHale.
It almost seemed like slow motion. From the corner of my eye, I spotted some cows peering curiously over the gate.
What was all the noise about? It was as if they were supervising the preparation of what would become their winter sustenance. A combination of the radio and an overactive imagination stirred up familiar trumpet-based backing music in my head.
“This is not just second-cut silage ... this is wilted for three days, shaken after two, reseeded last summer second-cut silage ...”
Some will say I should venture out more.
For three years now, cows have entered the shed in such condition that once-a-day second-cut silage has sustained the vast majority through to calving. Thin cows will get ad lib second-cut silage.
Winter is a time when nutrient resources need to be put to use effectively. With the pregnant cow, our principal feeding resource is the condition she lays down while at grass, not what’s covered in black plastic or within the meal bin. When we take into account manure, mowing, tossing, raking, baling, wrapping, bursting, mending, drawing and stacking – silage is expensive stuff.
Our target is to calve down at a body condition score of 2.5, meaning that we can lose almost a full score during the winter, if housing condition is right.
For a burly suckler cow, losing a full score in a four-month winter is the equivalent of a liveweight loss just shy of 0.5kg/day.
The bait is laid. Which city slicker will be the first to call me up for cow-malnourishment?
Non-farmers are a funny old bunch ...