My Farming Week: Michael Fitzmaurice, Williamstown, Co Galway
This week Patrick Donohoe speaks to newly elected TD Michael Fitzmaurice about his farming and contracting businesses.

I farm: “65 suckler cows on 65 acres as well as some rented land. I run a herd of Limousin out of British Friesians. I sell the calves mostly as weanlings in Castlerea and Roscommon marts. If one is a bit of a straggler, I’ll keep them for longer to feed them.”

System: “I wasn’t overly happy with how the herd was looking so I started fresh in 2007 or 2008 bucket feeding calves getting them up to where they needed to be. I do all right but I’ll never win farmer of the year.”

Family: “I’m married to Maria and I have three kids; Aisling (14), Patrick (12) and Nadine (8). Patrick is showing a great interest in the place. He’s always looking to help out.”

Contracting: “I do a bit of mowing, baling, slurry and turf cutting. It can be hard to get paid at times but farmers are the salt of the earth. As soon as they have money, they’ll pay you.”

Politics: “I’m an independent candidate. I’m my own man. I want to go in there and be different to how it has been done. I’ll be pushing things like rain water harvesting which would save rural dwellers and farmers hundreds of euro.”

Concerns: “You don’t need a degree from Trinity College to know that there’s a problem with the beef sector. Something needs to be done there in terms of farmers getting good prices consistently. Not the place where we have one good year, one bad. You can’t plan around that. Also, I’m worried about the investments in dairying. It’s the buzzword now but a lot of money has been spent, I hope it all works out okay. You have fellas buying robots without having ever having seen a cow.”

Quotable quote: “This isn’t about parish pump politics, I’m here to fight for all farmers in Ireland and for everyone who has been forgotten in rural Ireland. No matter where I go, I’ll always be farming and contracting, it keeps your feet on the ground."

Farmer writes: we are heavily dependent on technology
Spending one day a week on the road during the busy autumn calving season has made Co Donegal suckler farmer James Strain realise how much he relies on his satnav and calving cameras.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been spending two days a week in Teagasc, Moorepark, in Co Cork, attending a ruminant nutrition course. Moorepark is a long way from Donegal, but, thankfully, a good proportion of the journey is now motorway and you can cover a large distance in a fairly short period of time, even without speeding!

If you’d told someone 20 years ago that you were going to drive from Donegal to Cork and you were going to do it by driving through Dublin, then they’d have thought you were mad.

But, today, that is the best road and the quickest way to go. Approximately five hours door to door. Leaving at 3am, of course, helps, as the traffic is light.

Although I am really enjoying the course, it could not be at a worse time of year for me, as my herd has just started calving.

However, we’ll keep plodding along as best we can and hope for the best.

I have a Moocall, a good camera system and plenty of good neighbours, friends and relatives keeping an eye on things.

The only other thing I need is a bit of luck and hopefully I’ll have minimal losses.

Hitting home

One thing that has really hit home to me over the last few weeks of driving up and down the road is how heavily dependent we are on technology. The first thing is the satnav.

I can vividly remember my father the night before we had to complete a long journey.

There he was at the kitchen table, with a map twice the size of a car bonnet spread out in front of him.

He wrote a list of every town, village and notable townland that we had to pass through en route to our destination.

It was a bit of effort, but was well worth it, as it usually simplified the journey no end.

Strange towns

Not too often we got lost. My mother never was the best of a passenger and getting lost in strange towns, or even worse cities, usually created a lot of noise and fuss. My father had a good reason for writing his list!

No one really leaves the house worrying if they might get lost anymore.

Almost all new cars have a built-in satnav. If not, just type your destination into Google maps on the smart phone and, hey presto, you can’t go wrong. Does take the adventure out of it a bit though.

I’m checking the camera every hour at least to make sure everything is OK

The second thing is the calving camera. When I’m away, I’m checking the camera every hour at least to make sure everything is OK.

At least if I see something calving or something wrong, I should be able to relay the information back to someone who will help me out.

Funny thing about it is, when I was away, everything went fine.

When I came back, I took my eye off the ball and ended up with a cow calved on the slats last Sunday morning!

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Farmer Writes: oyster farming in Foyle

Farmer writes: rain at last and autumn calving difficulties
Joe Collingborn is going to Millstreet this weekend. Here he writes about rain at last, autumn calving and a recent visit a £1.3m project for 180 Irish-bred cows in England.

At long last we in the south midlands or southwest are having some consistent rain. Combined with the warm weather, the grass is starting to grow.

Cows are having a fresh paddock every day as we try to achieve some winter cover, and at night they have the silage face, four big bales of hay and the choice of the cubicles or a sacrifice paddock.

The rain in the last few days has driven them into the cubicles at night.

Our slurry and dirty water system consists of two parts. The slurry from the cubicles and yards is scraped into the slurry pit and the drainings from that and the run-off from the yards go into the dirty water pit.

They are both the same size, but the dirty water pit’s capacity over the last 25 years has been halved by the depth of sediment accumulated in the bottom.

So this year we tankered and injected the dirty water and got in a long-reach excavator to excavate and then spread the four feet of sediment.

The liquid we injected for the first time ever surprised and pleased us with the grass growth and I am tempted, in spite of the compaction, to use this method rather than our current rota rainer, which I am assured contributes to N evaporation.

Autumn calving

The autumn-calving cows have been difficult. So far, out of 20 cows calved, we’d had one successful caesarean, a pair of dead twins from a cow that calved early, two calves backwards born dead and we also lost one cow from a series of complications.

Last week, I attended the Southwest Dairy Event which was very well attended. As we left Wiltshire and drove into Somerset, we were amazed at the amount of grass there was compared to Wiltshire – some even taking bulky cuts of third-cut silage. How I wish!

Just round the corner from the Southwest Dairy Event is the new Kingsway Dairy Development Centre which we had heard about when we attended the World Dairy Summit in Belfast.

It was good to see it in action – a £1.3m project for 180 cows (Irish-bred), a lightweight fabric roof (less steel work needed), two robotic milking units, cows currently housed, fed by robot 15 times a day and scraped by a robot.

It looks very impressive, but I look forward to seeing their experiences at grazing come April.

Hoping to meet some of you at Millstreet this weekend.

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Farmer writes: 40 shades of green

Farmer Writes: how brown is my valley?

Farmer Writes: Charolais cattle on 300ha in central France
Marie-Ange Duchier farms pedigree Charolais cattle on 300ha in central France and is waiting on the rain to arrive.

I am based on a 300ha farm with good quality land in Nouhant, which is located in the New Aquitaine region in central France. It is of course a big farm but it is run by three people, myself, my husband Jean-Luc and another partner who began by working on the farm before joining our partnership some years ago. We operate a 170-strong pedigree Charolais herd as well as cereal crops. Compared to Ireland, there are a large amount of purebred beef herds in France.

Where the purebred herds in Ireland would be mainly for reproduction, the purebred herds in France are usually both for breeding and for beef. On this farm we breed between 10 and 20 of our best bull calves for reproduction each year. The 70 remaining bull calves are sold live for export.

Italy is one of the main markets for these cattle. Bulls are exported at 320kg-420kg and this year’s prices are about €2.70/kg. With the female calves, we keep what we need as replacements within our own herd and the rest are fattened on the farm for slaughter. 2018 has been a difficult year for French farming with disagreeable weather conditions and poor beef prices. All summer the sun has been shining and we have received very little rain as of yet.

As a result we will have some problems with feed stocks for the winter. Beef prices paid to farmers have been very poor, between €3.50-€3.70/kg for cows, €3.80-€4.00/kg for heifers and €2.57/kg for veal for export to Italy or Spain.

On the farm at the moment we are looking to plough the fields for planting winter cereals (if it would ever rain!) and soon calving will begin for 35 autumn calving heifers.

This year we had one bull at the Sommet de l’Elevage, the main agricultural show in France which takes place in Clermont-Ferrand each year.

The Sommet is a wonderful show for people interested in livestock and it seems to gather a lot of interest from international visitors in particular. Our bull at the show this year was named Nazariu. He is a 28-month old bull, born on 31 January last year. I’m delighted to say that he won first prize in the underage category and he came second in the overall Charolais super final.

This has been our second time winning at this show. It is great for us to get some recognition and our bulls are becoming more popular as a result. In terms of price, I’m looking for €4,000 for Nazariu and if he is not sold at the show, he will be sold at home on the farm.