Farmer writes: Hard to find a voice of reason in clamour over suspect BSE case
When Ciarán Lenehan first heard the news about BSE, his first reaction was to search Twitter for voices of reason amidst the sensationalist clamour.

I’m standing in the corner of a Kepak chill, pondering the bleak outlook surrounding my very-immediate future.

The white-walled fridge-room is empty, save for a handful of researchers, a butcher and 10 boxes of beef. The whirring fans have only just shut down; it’s shudderingly cold.

Earlier that week we’d slaughtered 30 experimental bulls. Now the task was to dissect their corresponding cube rolls; a joint comprising the first five ribs on the hind-quarter. Its ratios of lean, bone and fat give an accurate representation of total carcass composition.

We struggle through it and retire to the canteen for sustenance. Ah, sweet heat. I try in vain to crack a boiled egg with yet-to-defrost fingers. My phone squeals, a message pops up and the numbness quickly dissipates. BSE is back.

The chatter begins. Never was there a more apt setting to hear such news. Around us, ringtone frequency increases notably; farmers and agents with questions and answers.

I jump to Twitter – an excellent barometer for both the seriousness of a story and the public’s opinion. It isn’t good. Sensationalist headlines litter the tweet-o-sphere.

The terms “suspect” and “positive” intertwine dangerously. People are “kissing goodbye” to beef prices and international trade agreements in less than 140 characters.

Like many, I know next-to-nothing on the topic. Undertaking a PhD has taught me the importance of proper evaluation. No, sit tight keep quiet and find out the facts.

There’s still nothing new on Twitter. I wade through the hundreds of negative reactions for truths, but it’s no good.

I’m drowning in a pool of ill-informed speculation and gossip. It’s reached the UK now. I’m reminded of the local power-walking forty-somethings, looking over the fence into a naughty neighbour’s.

“You’ll never guess what he’s gone and done now...”

Finally, a factual article from an informed source surfaces on the Irish Farmers Journal's site. As suspected, there had been excess hot air blown into the story initially. Clickbait is a valuable currency, and it rained from the sky with the news of BSE. The matter could have, and should have been handled better in terms of informing people. The initial hours of damning headlines will not have helped Ireland’s invaluable reputation. Though flames were quickly fanned, what do they say about first impressions?

Farmer Writes: farmers need to be proactive on clean livestock policy
The day of running lambs up into a trailer straight from the field, onto the lorry and into the factory is finished, writes Brian Nicholson.

The heavy rain of last week has been a blip in what up to now has been a perfect autumn for grazing. At present, I have about 60% of the farm grazed out and closed up for the spring.

The rams will be removed from the different breeding groups by the end of the month, bringing a conclusion to the breeding season for another year. With this done, I will probably house the ewes which are due to lamb down first by early to mid-December.

This will leave outside the ewes which are due to lamb later in the spring. They will graze out the remainder of the grass before moving on to the Redstart. Hopefully, all going to plan, they will not need to be housed till sometime in late January.

The Redstart, although fairly good, doesn’t have the bulk normally associated with the time of year it was sown, especially the field sown in mid-August. These fields more resemble ones sown in September due to the lack of moisture in the soil after sowing which delayed germination.

I have sourced a field of beet tops for the replacement ewes to graze for a while which will help stretch out the fodder supplies for the rest of the ewes until they return.

Checking rams

As I take the rams away from the ewes later this month after their busy work period, I will give them a good check over, with any health issues being dealt with.

They will then receive some concentrate supplementation for a period of time and hopefully this ration will build their body condition back up. I find this very important for any young rams which have been working as not looking after them now will affect their future performance.

Looking after them now gives them plenty of time to recover and prepare for next year’s breeding season. I will also assess how many may need to be replaced before next year.

Clean livestock policy

The clean livestock policy is an issue that we as farmers have to be proactive about. The days of running lambs up into a trailer straight from the field, on to the lorry and into the factory, are finished.

We are after all in the food production business and whether we like it or not we must do what we can to reduce the risk of contaminating that food. I ended up housing lambs for a couple of days last week prior to sending them to the factory in an attempt to get them dry enough after the rain. Better to do this than have the lambs rejected and sent home.

I have since housed the remainder of the lambs and I plan on dagging these this week. Their transition to shed life has been fairly straightforward as I already had them eating meal beforehand. I will build them up to ad-lib meal over the next while to get them finished as quickly as possible.

I am keen to finish out these lambs soon as they will be eating meal and costing me approximately 30-45c a day.

These lambs are the least profitable on the farm as it is not possible for me to finish them on grass and given the length of time that they have been on the farm.

Every additional week I have to keep them eats into the profit margins.

Farmer Writes: two very different 100-year anniversaries
Gerald Potterton looks back at two very different 100-year anniversaries – that of John Deere and the ending of World War I.

There are two important but very different 100 year anniversaries in 2018. The first one – the ending of the 1914-1918 Great War – is hugely more important but, nonetheless, it is the second one I’ll talk about today.

However, duty calls me to say a few words about the Great War, which came to an end after a horrific four years of fighting on 11 November 1918.

Up to 50,000 Irishmen and women lost their lives in the Great War and a further 70,000 Irishmen were never to return to Ireland, effectively exiled from their own country. Yet, we as a nation airbrushed their courageous sacrifice from our history until relatively recently.

Thankfully, we live in more enlightened times and they’ve certainly been given due recognition this year, 100 years later.

Anyhow, on to the second anniversary. John Deere has reached its one hundredth anniversary as a tractor manufacturer. Now, you probably thought that it suited me to ignore this milestone but occasionally I try to be balanced in this column. After all, if Fendt were 100 years old, I’d have told you a dozen times.

Rather than look back over John Deere’s history – which I’m far from qualified to do – I thought I’d look back at Deere’s local history in south Meath. To do this, I need to mention lots of names and I hope those named won’t object. Remember, it was Oscar Wilde who said, if there’s anything worse than being talked about, it’s not being talked about.

The first John Deere I ever sat in was my uncle Raymond’s. A progressive farmer, he bought a new 2130 in the late 1970s complete with the brilliant Sekura-built OPU cab. With a flat floor and a radio (for Luxembourg), it was a revelation to us and as young lads our tongues were hanging out for a drive in such a cool tractor.

But Raymond was not the father of John Deere in Co Meath. That distinction belonged to the late Herbert Chambers who, as one of the founding fathers of large-scale tillage farming, ran a fleet of John Deeres including the mighty 4000 series.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, few of the mainstream manufacturers offered tractors of 100hp and John Deere with their integrated Sound Guard cabs were way out in front. There was nothing to touch them. A Fendt at that time had a canvas cab and you entered by climbing through the windscreen.

Michael Love has had Deere for as long as I can remember. He has a large collection of working classics, including a pair of iconic 7810s, which wouldn’t look out of place on the cover of Classic Tractor. But shrewd boy that he is, the classics are more reliable than the modern versions with ECUs and EGRs and HMSs and Ad-Blue. That’s true of most brands today.

Bruno

In recent times, you can’t mention Deere and not Bruno McCormack. Bruno keeps half a dozen virtually new Deeres, so much so that I think he replaces them just before their first oil change is due. Bruno hates to see oil drips on the workshop floor so it’s far too risky to be changing oil.

Here’s to the next 100 years John Deere, and may it be a world at peace.

Farmer Writes: beef sector needs to be careful what it wishes for
When I think about the Irish beef sector, I get a bit concerned and maybe not on the reasons you might think, writes Tommy Moyles.

Another week and it will prove to be hard to keep cows out in the cold November rain. It’s a case of trying to close out the end of the autumn rotation planner now and give paddocks a chance to set themselves up for spring grazing.

Weaning is three-quarters complete, with the youngest calves and heifers from the first and second calvers left. With the trees becoming bare, yard routine is shaping up.

Reading Gerald Potterton’s history lesson in last week’s Irish Farmers Journal about the 1932 to 1938 land war reminded me of stories my grandmother told me. While most of the farm she grew up on was able to be grazed or tilled, almost a sixth of it was out of farming commission, so to speak. It would break her mother’s heart to have to pay the land annuities on this as it couldn’t be farmed.

There is a combination of scrub ground and slope on one side of the road, and a marsh where I heard many a tale of cows having to be rescued from as they sunk to their bellies in parts of the extremely marshy ground.

From a farming perspective, that ground is still off limits but balances out the more intensive side as there is a wide variety of flora and fauna in there. It has a purpose in the greater environmental scheme of things but economically it would be viewed as being of little to no value.

The economic war put an end to those payments but brought other hardships.

There have been murmurings in some quarters looking for a similar calf slaughter subsidy akin to those dark days of the 1930s to deal with increased dairy beef genetics.

I would caution that in the age we farm in, we need to be extremely careful about what we wish for. Such a move could do more harm than good.

When I think a bit too much on the Irish beef sector, I get a bit concerned and maybe not for the reasons you might think. I often wonder that if we market grass-fed beef, why do we not focus on beef genetics that can best take advantage of grass? Has it the potential to leave more in farmers’ pockets?

But the more I think about it, the less I worry. As long as factories have feedlots then there is no real need to panic about whether I move to a grass-fed-only system or not.

Discussion

I hosted a different discussion group to my own on the farm last week. As I hadn’t hosted one in a while, it proved an interesting experience. By answering their questions, I got to view the farm in a different way.

It’s like an exam without consequences as I had to justify how the business operates and how and why changes were made over the years. No matter how many times you think about or see these reasons written down, hearing them out loud is a different experience.

Having a settled system with a focus on keeping things simple works well for me.

That’s not to say everything is right but as much by accident as by design that’s the system that works best for me.

You can make yourself extremely busy on the farm if you want but ultimately, does it pay?