Last Sunday was a beautiful day. The sun shone and the leaves on the semi-deciduous tree by the kitchen window stirred gently. In the distance, bare trees stood absolutely still, poised to break forth into leaf in the coming weeks.
Two white little egrets stood together between the farmhouse and the farmyard; their plumage snowy against the lush green grass where pigeons grazed.
There was no sign of seagulls sheltering from stormy seas.
The cows on the nearest neighbouring farm were grazing happily. Ours cows were out of view. It was a moment of natural beauty and I paused and reminded myself that I must always remember that no matter how bad things are; there are always better beautiful moments around the corner. We must trust in that promise in order to endure whatever the difficulty of the time.
Those are the kinds of days when farming is tough
Exactly a week before was the start of awful weather. The wind howled and the driving rain beat against my glasses rendering my view of the world blurry and confused. A loose sheet on a shed somewhere vibrated in protest at the unrelenting, incessant wind from the east. Those are the kinds of days when farming is tough and the weather can bring your mood down. The rain continued all week making grass management difficult. The flood waters in the river burst onto the field that is known as the Inch.
Before the flood it had 700kg of grass dry matter per hectare on it. Who knows what it will be like when the flood recedes?
As always, the cows have gone to grass as they calved. We’ve hammered through February. Despite the wet weather, according to Teagasc, my husband Tim is ahead of target with 30% of the grass grazed by 22 February. This is because we can and do go out early. Teagasc recommends that the second round of grazing starts on 1 April. Ours will start on 24-25 March. Each farm is different.
Cows are milking well and in good condition
Cows are eating 9kg of grass, 3kg of ration and 3kg of silage. Eating silage for a few hours allows for on/off grazing to protect the grass. The cows were milked once a day up until 22 February. We’ve done this for the last few years. The benefits far outweigh the tiny drop in production. The milkers – Tim and our son Diarmuid – ease into the spring work. The heifers get used to the parlour and the herd settles down to the grass grazing routine.
Cows are milking well and in good condition. There have been absolutely no retained afterbirths to date which is a good indicator of good health in the cows. Butterfat is 5.2% and protein is 3.8%.
On the 22 February, there are 115 cows calved. That includes 51 heifers. That leaves 23 animals, which includes nine heifers, to calve here at home in Woodside. All the heifers are calving here for both farms as we have more labour available and the parlour is more suitable for heifers.
In return, the late calvers were sent to our son Colm’s leased farm, which has improved our figures here at home.
Most of the cows have calved between 6am and 4pm
No fertiliser has been spread yet due to unsuitable weather conditions. Slurry has been put out on a third of the farm on paddocks that were grazed last in the autumn or grazed first this spring. It was put out using the umbilical cord system so as to protect the environment.
Most mornings, as I approach the yard, the gentle lowing of cows announces the arrival of calves. It’s a great sound. Most of the cows have calved between 6am and 4pm. Tim feeds the cows around 8pm to avoid night time calving. It works a treat. Only a handful have calved by night.
New life is being bred into the herd and with it new hope and life into us
The cows are checked around 11.30pm and one of the calf rearers arrives around 6.30am in the morning when activity is usually picking up.
We are so lucky to be busy farming. New life is being bred into the herd and with it new hope and life into us. There are days that we hardly know that we are in lockdown. It is important to be able to blot it out and relish the fact that we are busy. It is keeping us sane. I will continue to enjoy the beautiful moments that nature offers on our farms. No lockdown can kill those.