The only item on the agenda in our yard for the last few months has been the 20 Friesian heifers I bought as weanlings this time last year.

More precisely, the sale of these animals has been the only item on the agenda. There is more money tied up in them than I am comfortable with, and the fear of something happening to one of them was constantly in the back of mind.

Lifting that fear was a big step forward last week, when all 20 were scanned in-calf. They are not out the gate just yet, but this was another milestone reached. Grass in some paddocks is gone too strong for the calves-stroke-weanlings, but I do not want to start cutting bales of silage at this time of year, so the heifers are working their way through this long grass. When that is gone in two to three weeks’ time, then the heifers will be ready for the road.

Selling them as in-calf heifers was always a fall-back plan if I did not proceed with converting to dairy. Plans are fine in theory, but the practice of minding them and getting them in-calf has been harder than just flicking a switch and engaging plan-B.

It will be a relief when they are gone and there is a few quid in the farm bank account again.

A word of thanks here to the agri-merchants who have extended credit to me over the past few months. To any of them reading this, I will be in before the end of the month to settle up my account. Or I will ring and give you the card number over the phone.

This was my first time having to avail of merchant credit and it has opened my eyes to the value of such a facility. Those independent merchants were the lifeblood of our farm this year. I do not have much experience of non-independent or processor-linked merchants, or whatever the official title should be, but I do recall a lukewarm exchange at a farmers’ meeting I attended some years back. It was pre-COVID-19, so people could participate in a physical setting. The only social distancing practised was between members who had no grá for lads from rival branches.

The farmer representative on the co-op board spoke briefly on some sensitive subject or other. (As an aside, I wonder is there any other kind of subject at such meetings?) At the end of his short speech, he asked if attendees might “bear us in mind” when purchasing their fertiliser, feed, etc the following year. The chair of the meeting immediately offered him some invaluable advice. He suggested the rep’s organisation come out into the market and compete with the independent merchants – then there would be no need to solicit custom, as farmers would automatically bear them in mind.

It is easy for me to remain aloof on such matters, since I am not going ahead with the milking plan (at this stage) and I do not have to worry about the impact of trading bonuses or the like on the price of my fertiliser and feed. What I can say, however, is that the merchants I have dealt with this year have been patient and I will return for more of the same without anyone having to ask me.