Farmer writes: milk price rising, but no grass
At the moment the paddocks are looking brown and thin, so we have just purchased 30t of brewers’ grains at £52/t, writes Joe Collingborn.

Many successful men are driven by a woman. I wouldn’t say that I am a particularly successful man, but there are many occasions when I am driven by a woman.

It was early in May when the other end of the table strongly suggested that it was time to go make silage. I could think of several reasons why it was too soon:

“The pit hasn’t been cleaned.”

“Has all the N been used up?”

“Shouldn’t we wait for more grass?”

But I knew from bitter experience that if I delayed and the rain came I would be reminded three times a day: “If only we had gone when I said to go."

The pit was cleaned out in time, just, the N was used up, just, and the crop was there, just. And the rain came just after we’d sheeted up. This year we insisted the contracting team helped us sheet up, as in the past we had issues.

We have moved to nets and gravel bags to cover the clamp – a great improvement over wet and smelly tyres. The only problem is what to do with those tyres now.

Going early with the first cut meant we had to go early with the second cut, because the heat and drought were making it head out, and what bulk was left was shrinking in the heat. Hopefully we will get some regrowth on these pastures to graze the milking herd, rather than hope for a third cut.

At the moment the paddocks are looking brown and thin, so we have just purchased 30t of brewers’ grains at £52/t. This will be used to compensate the lack of grass. Up until now we have been feeding wraps made this year from the pastures that got away from us. This was caused by a two-month late turnout and having to leapfrog over wet paddocks.

At the moment we are drying cows off from the autumn-calving group and selling barroners, which will take some of the pressure off the grazing, but it is still going to be expensive to maintain milk yields and fertility.

The milk price is rapidly rising, but with no grass how can we possibly take advantage of the situation?

My accountant tells me that looking forward labour will become such an issue. It will either be 100-cow family farms or 1,000 cows. We’ll definitely be the former.

Farmer Writes: heading back to one cow per acre
Dumfries dairy farmer Michael Kyle explains the changes he is making to his herd for 2019.

After a terrible spring, followed by a very dry summer, finally we have had a good autumn.

Milk is currently up 20% on the same time last year and cow condition is very good for 80% of the herd. The other 20% have been dry for some three weeks and hopefully this will give them time to calve down in good shape.

We have about 50 cows that are overfat and I have selected these to be wintered on rougher ground. This should keep them in check and it means we have less feed to find, less slurry, work, etc. On the issue of winter fodder, there should be enough feed to last into early April, but certainly nothing to spare.

We are drying off the remainder of the heifers this week. That means there will be 390 or so milking for the next two to three weeks, with all cows to be dried off by 20 December.

We are starting to think about not using antibiotic dry cow tubes on cell count cows under 50. This will be us dipping our toes in the water slightly, but it seems to be the way forward.

We have all but weaned ourselves off using antibiotics in calves, just by changing our management strategy, so the less used going forward the better – it will save a lot of money, if nothing else.

Once cows are dry, on 4 January they will get a six-month high selenium/high iodine bolus and a drench for fluke at the same time.

Stocking

We are proceeding down the route of lowering stocking rate to the good old cow to the acre or 2.5 to the hectare. What we have found in recent years is production off-farm is actually better from fewer cows.

In reality, it is probably just the fact that we have been a bit more pro-active in getting rid of under-performing cows, resulting in less pressure on cows and man alike.

The plan going forward in 2019 is to get 4,800 litres per head from 700 cows, feeding 675kg concentrate.

Youngstock are now on their winter regime. We have 190 heifers in total, with 75 of these slightly behind target weight. They are being housed in a slatted shed and receiving good-quality silage and 2.5kg/head of cake. The remainder are on a 150-day rotation on grass, and are being allocated 0.4-0.5ha/day.

This grazing should last until the end of March, at which point we will start the spring round of grazing again. In addition, the heifers are getting 1kg of cake to make sure they maintain their weight.

Even though they are well on target, we are taking no chances. The heifers will all be weighed again mid-January and, if necessary, adjustments will be made.

Farmer Writes: seven days of grass to graze
Bill O'Keeffe still has over 60% of his herd milking. They are producing 12.5l at 5.87% fat and 4.60% protein.

The wet weather this week will keep the cows confined to the barracks a bit more than we’ve been used to over the last few weeks. We have another seven days of grass to graze before closing up for the winter, but it might take us 10 days to get through it if we have to miss a few days with rain here and there.

We still have over 60% of the herd milking – they are producing 12.5l at 5.87% fat and 4.60% protein and cell count is still steady at 149,000 with once a day, so we will keep a good share of them tipping along into next week.

Body condition score is holding up very well, but we will have to dry off more this weekend based on calving dates and to keep the lactose levels up.

The calves have settled well into their winter routine this week and intakes are going up steadily. They are in an outside yard, so their feed is mixed at home and brought to their yard every second day.

We need to watch how much they eat closely to keep feed in front of them. They got their first dose last week and look to be in very good order after their first grazing season such as it was.

The in-calf heifers will come in early next week as well after a nice extension to their grazing season. They are being moved twice a day for the last few weeks in the wet weather to mind ground.

We will try to give them a crash course in cubicle training and run them through the milking parlour a few times, if possible, once they come in so hopefully they can hit the ground running after calving.

With the shortened winter period this year, everything gets condensed and they will be calving before they get properly settled into the herd. It’s not a complaint obviously, just an observation and we will have to plan the dosing and vaccination regime around this and make adjustments accordingly.

Our pedigree Friesian bulls, on the other hand, are settled into the shed for the last few weeks and they will be pushed on well with concentrates over the winter.

We bedded them on peat for a change this year to spare straw for feeding.

It seems to be working very well so far with the bulls staying very clean and looking very comfortable when lying down.

The gap between the EBI index of these bulls and the herd performance here is widening all of the time and it’s getting very difficult to see much correlation between the two with the British Friesian breed in Ireland at this stage.

Solution

A separate index for the Friesians is being suggested as a solution in some quarters but a separate active bull list for pure Friesian bulls might suffice to rank available Friesian bulls against each other and make it easier for farmers who want to include some Friesian bulls in their breeding programme to pick out the best ones available.

With all of the negative press about calf quality and calf welfare coming out of the dairy herd in recent times, it has to be better to make information as accessible as possible for anyone interested in using a breed that will help somewhat to alleviate this problem. As the dairy herd increases, the number of calves increases and the problems will keep increasing too if we keep ignoring them.

Farmer Writes: farms have an ability to cloud judgement
Farms have an ability to cloud judgement – to a successor they can be a dream come true or a prison sentence, writes Tommy Moyles.

“Get yourself a job with a polished shoe” – that was my grandmother’s career advice to me growing up. The comment was borne from a lifetime of hard work and, unfortunately for her but fortunately for me, I ignored it. My fallback response – “But it’s easier to wash a welly Nana” – raised a laugh, but I never forgot the saying. There’s no doubt she wasn’t the first and won’t be the last farming family member to say or think the same.

Farms have an ability to cloud judgement. To a successor they can be a dream come true or a prison sentence.

If you have a choice between keeping a post office open or implementing a decent rural broadband scheme where do you go to channel your energy? You can fight the tide for so long. There’s only so many times you can vote against your GAA club amalgamating before reality and declining population kicks in.

It’s now possible to pause live television but, no matter how much you’d like to, you can’t do the same with real life.

Sure if you think too much about it, now is in the past. The evolution of farms and rural Ireland is becoming more visible now and was touched on about a month ago in Justin McCarthy’s editorial: “Where are the farmers to lead our industry’s future.”

It put me thinking. I had come through two of the leadership routes, Macra na Feirme and Nuffield Ireland. One showed me reality and the other gave me perspective.

One of the constants of farming is change. A constant companion of change is resistance to it.

One of the leadership challenges I constantly witnessed was how to persuade people a new idea could be good.

In Macra you learned leadership without knowing you were doing it. However, even in a young person’s organisation, new ideas were a hard sell. In fact, you could argue anywhere there are votes involved, it’s difficult to convince people of the virtues of trying something different. It’s easy to get people to follow you if you tell them what they want to hear. If change is involved, it’s an entirely different matter.

It probably comes back to the fact that people are more comfortable with old problems than with new solutions.

What reasons exist that don’t allow time to be spent in leadership roles?

If you are trying to run or build a successful business you need to be a bit selfish. Labour was more available in the past, enabling time to be spent off farm in leadership roles in co-ops and farm organisations.

Time a scarce commodity

Time is a scarce commodity for many potential leaders of the future so they have a choice to make between being more focused on their own businesses or a will for the greater community good.

Perhaps part of the reason fewer people take up board roles is to do with more accessible third-level education? In the past, farm leaders may not have had the same opportunities to attend third-level education that have been available over the last 25 years. The plan may have been to return to the farm after a degree but life can change plans. A certain percentage of potential leaders to drift from farming and roles on the farmer side of co-operatives into management level in secondary and tertiary industries.

In an era of labour shortages and time pressures and the need to drive on their own businesses, how many are going to take up roles at board level in the future?