I am something of a pagan when it comes to Christmas.
I like to celebrate the holiday as much as the next farmer but, more importantly, I know when it is over and we emerge from the fog of turkey, chocolate and hot sweet punch, then the darkest days of winter are behind us.
The brighter evenings might still not be obvious at that stage, but the longest nights will certainly have gone.
Facing into a new calendar year is a natural time to take stock of what has gone in the year past and what is to come in the year ahead. It is tempting to say we are in for a turbulent 2022, with fertiliser prices, changes to CAP, Brexit, COVID-19 and the biggest change of all – the new climate and nitrates action plans – starting to appear on the horizon.
The agri-food markets and Government policies outside the farm-gate are changing all the time
But farmers, of all people, should not look at changes on a yearly basis or take any recent year as a starting point.
The agri-food markets and Government policies outside the farm-gate are changing all the time. It might be at a pedestrian speed, but they constantly evolve over time. We are never at the start of change, but always in the middle of it.
I don’t know about you, but I take some comfort from that.
On more day-to-day matters, our weanlings are well-settled into their winter routine now.
I enjoy manual work. It is good for physical fitness and makes your dinner taste better
The old cow cubicle shed that became a lambing shed is now back to housing cattle again. It is working out OK but is not a long-term option as there is too much spronging silage between feeders and cleaning the shed with a yard scraper.
I enjoy manual work. It is good for physical fitness and makes your dinner taste better. But the current setup means a little bit too much pulling and dragging for it to be enjoyable.
So, I am considering two options for next winter – a slatted shed backed on to the gable-end of the existing cubicles or a roof over an old silage slab which would turn it into a straw-bedded shed.
Both would be three-bay structures, and my cost estimate would be €30,000 to €35,000 for the slats and €10,000 to €12,000 for the roof to make the straw-bed. This might seem low for a straw-bedded shed, but there is a concrete base and walls on three sides already in place so the only big costs would be the roof itself, the feed barriers and labour.
I threw each option out onto the Twitter world and, as ever, plenty of farmers responded and shared some very useful experiences.
It is not the same as seeing their sheds in the flesh, but it is real-world, hard-won knowledge that you will never get from official pamphlets.
Importing minerals and nutrients onto the farm in the form of straw is something that also appeals to me
Most people reckoned the straw-bed option was best, especially as there is plenty of straw available in our county every year.
Importing minerals and nutrients onto the farm in the form of straw is something that also appeals to me. The concrete floor gives other options too that you might not have with slats.
Having said all that, there is obviously something to slats when they are so popular across the country.
Nothing will be decided yet and I will try to get more accurate prices in the coming months. Then, I will prevaricate for another few weeks before making a spur-of-the-moment decision.
I do not think the pagans or wise druids would approve of this decision-making process, but then they had more sense than trying to balance an off-farm job with feeding 40 weanlings in cubicles on dark winter evenings.