We have started the final grazing rotation for the year this week. We are grazing the furthest paddocks from the milking parlour at night and keeping the herd closer to the parlour by day. We are milking a bit earlier in the evening now, to give the cows more time in their night paddocks between commutes.

Legs and feet are holding up reasonably well so far on the long walk, but we will have to keep on top of any small issues over the next few weeks and get in early to sort out any problems that arise from the increased mileage. We will footbath the cows more regularly for the rest of the lactation, to keep the herd as healthy as possible before the winter period.

The night paddocks are over 2km from the yard, so it’s an early start for the next couple of weeks to get them back home for morning milking. We have a batt-latch on the gap at the field, which opens the gap at 5am. Some of the herd are very quick to respond to this and start the walk home, but the rest still have to be rounded up and brought in.

This piece of kit works much better in the spring, when cows are more active and leave the paddock quicker. It’s also invaluable when on-off grazing in rough weather, when the alarm can be set to open the gap after two or three hours of grazing or before rain is forecast.

The early starts this week came with the unexpected bonus of a close encounter with a barn owl on one of the fence posts beside the roadway on Monday morning. It even stuck around long enough to get some photos and a quick video. We see them occasionally on the farm, but it’s obviously very rare to get that close to one for any length of time. It’s very special to see wild birds like this owl living and thriving on the farm and shows that it’s very possible to farm productively alongside a healthy natural eco-system. Apex predators like this show that despite the contrary claims from some sectors, there is a very healthy level of biodiversity on most of our farms.

There is a very healthy population of buzzards on the farm now too, with at least three nest sites on the milking platform. We regularly encounter kestrels and sparrowhawks on our rounds and a pair of short-eared owls have also nested in the local area. All clear signs of a healthy eco-system. These are all thriving alongside the usual larger fauna visible on the farm on a daily basis.

All of this biodiversity can be enhanced and encouraged easily enough alongside a profitable and sustainable farm business, if we go about it the right way. If we look at the success of the ASSAP on water quality, farmers have engaged positively and voluntarily with advisers and experts on the best solutions for individual farms, all with their unique characteristics and challenges.

Maybe a well-funded similar programme on biodiversity would work well, with advice and direction tailored to the individual geography and regional needs of the local flora and fauna. Maybe entry to and meaningful engagement with such a programme would deliver more measurable results than some of the measures suggested in the new Basic Income Support for Sustainability (BISS) eco-schemes.

Suggestions like this will fall on deaf ears, however, if we don’t have meaningful engagement with our local and national politicians and policy makers. The IFA has a day of action planned for this Friday across the country. We need a strong turnout to communicate to the leadership of the country that they need to engage more with farmers, they need to listen to our concerns and more importantly, they need to act on those concerns.