When I left home at 17, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around - so said American writer Mark Twain. The punchline of the quote goes: “On returning home at 25 I was astonished at how much my father had learned.”

This insight came to mind recently when I re-engaged with a national accountancy firm I stopped doing business with in 2018. I am astonished at how much they have learned in the last four years.

It is early in the year to be thinking about tax returns, but I need to apply for a loan to put up the new shed, so the farm accounts and 20 other pieces of documentation need to be in place.

By the time you read this, most of these should be with the lending institution(s) and I will be a step closer to taking on approximately €20,000 in debt.

Not a huge sum in farming terms but sizeable enough for someone who has never borrowed to invest in himself before.

Being able to write off the cost of depreciation against future tax returns made the decision a little easier but either way it is still money going out the gate.

The shed will be four spans, built over an old silage slab, and straw-bedded. It will house weanlings in winter and calves in spring. There will be no electric lights and I will plumb in water myself from the adjoining cubicles building.

A local engineer is making two internal gates to divide it into three pens, and these will be hinged so they can swing back and allow a tractor in to clean them out.

I will probably go with a straight feed-rail at the front to keep costs down.

The first weanlings that will go into the shed are nearly all weaned off milk now. As ever, there are a few stragglers who are pulling the statistics down.

The first few groups were an average of 82 days old at weaning, but the last two groups will be closer to 95 days.

No surprise

It will come as no surprise that those first weaned cost the most at the mart (average €166), while the cheapest and smallest (average €139) needed more milk powder to get to weaning.

There might be some lessons in there for me, but I am not going to look too closely. I work in data analytics off-farm and have a general interest in statistics.

All going well, the shed structure will be finished by August and I will have time then to tip away at water fittings, internal gates, and feed-rails before it is needed later in the year.

Sourcing and storing straw will be the next part of the plan. Not having sheep or cattle in the old cow cubicles means they can be used for storage. And I am hoping straw will not be too dear in our area come harvest time.

More straw will be needed from here on and it is an extra cost to the system, but my thinking is that importing nutrients onto the farm through this bought-in straw will wean the soil off bagged fertiliser in the long run.

I am sure the recently enlightened accountancy firm will help me figure it all out; and I will appreciate their knowledge even more next year.