My farming week: Michael O’Neill, Camolin, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford
The Wexford man farms pedigree sheep, beef and tillage with his wife and son.

I farm: “70 acres of good, dry land, with another 30 rented at 600ft above sea level.”

Family: “I farm with my wife, Sarah. We have entered into a partnership with our son, who is in full-time employment.”

Ewes: “We reduced our flock from 125 to 65 last November. The ewes are all pedigree Suffolk and Charollais. My father was in pedigree Suffolks before I was born. He ran a flock of 20 or 25 ewes.”

Breeding: “We have been using laparoscopic AI for the last number of years. We bought two new rams this year, one Charollais and one Suffolk, which we use for AI.”

Lambing: “We started lambing on 3 January. The first repeats have lambed and we have nine ewes left to lamb next week. We had an average of 1.65 lambs/ewe so far. The singles and doubles go outside from two days of age onwards. We foster as many of the triplet lambs as we can, and the surplus lambs are sold to pedigree breeders.”

Shows: “We go to as many of the local shows as possible. We went to the national championships last year, which is always brilliant as you get to see all the different breeds. It’s a nice day out, you get to meet other breeders and have a laugh.”

Calves: “We buy 30 or 40 calves every year. Previously we bought all heifer calves, which we finished off grass. Now we are moving more towards bullocks, which we finish around April.”

Fodder: “We grow 40 acres of fodder rape every year, which we graze the cattle and ewes on. The cattle are currently going out onto the fodder rape in the morning and are brought in at night. They are fed fodder beet, meal and straw as well. We also grow 50 acres of barley and 10 acres of beans.”

Quotable quote: “Unless sheep farmers can get €100/lamb they are not going to stay in this enterprise. We’ve seen a lot of our customers for pedigree rams cutting back or getting out of sheep.”

Farmer Writes: we've lost 1,000 cattle to floods and cold
Colin Burnett runs the Lara Downs cattle station in Queensland, Australia. In the last week they have lost 1,000 cattle in record floods.

My brother and I are the fourth generation to run this station 80km north of Julia Creek. We have an 8,000-head herd of Brahman-cross cattle. They’re spread across two stations, totalling 83,000ha.

We breed, background (store and pasture) and fatten cattle on a grass-based system using some supplement feeding. We supply the live export markets, restockers, feedlots and meat-works for both domestic and international consumption.

We’ve lost around 1,000 cattle out of the 4,200 here because of a record flood, record rainfall in a short period and the sudden temperature drop.

Lara Downs cattle station has an annual rainfall of 525mm. It received 983mm in 11 days.

More than 400,000 cattle were lost in the region as a whole.

The three properties north of us all carry about 4,000 cattle each as well. They lost between 90% and 100% of their stock.

For the last five years we’ve been in drought conditions, with below average rainfall. The rain event was the perfect storm. Everyone was at the end of our long dry season. Grass was short, cattle were at their weakest in terms of body condition.

The rain became a deluge here, with 983mm in 11 days. This included a record flood and cold nights with 75km/h winds and rain to go with it.

Lara Downs cattle station in the aftermath of the floods. Only the tree tops are visible here.

Cattle had endured three months of temperatures in excess of 40°C. They just gave up.

Weaners were the worst affected. They panicked and were climbing on top of each other in the corners of paddocks. There was no way to drive or fly to them with the rain not stopping. Typical Australian conditions.

Normally our wet season runs from January to April. We’ll have an average of 525mm spread out over this period. We have 5ft to 6ft of self-mulching cracking clay here with full moisture profile which can last for a couple of years.

Before the rain, parasites are at their worst but grass pasture is at its best. There’s very little legumes in our native pasture out here which consists of Mitchell and Flinders grasses. This is the time of year at which young cattle will be gaining the most. This would be up to 1kg/day. It’s also our breeding time. We breed our cows for four to six months.

The immediate plan on our station is to feed cattle on islands and wait for the land to dry out. We will helicopter the cattle out of our lowest country in case of another larger weather event before Easter.

Cattle feeding on hay lifted into them by helicopter on Lara Downs cattle station in the aftermath of the Queensland floods.

Helicopters can carry in about 250kg of feed at a time. The army helicopters can lift up to 1.6t.

Some people have up to 200 cows and calves on an island they have to feed until the grass grows.

Our plan for Easter onwards now consists of a few options:

1 There is a lot of demand for people to agist this area due to very little rain in central Queensland, so there’s one form of income. Agistment is where you take on other peoples cattle at a fixed rate.

2 Restocking with possibly some government finance.

3 Cut a lot of pasture for hay and getting a second growth.

Cattle yards at Lara Downs cattle station in the aftermath of the floods

Communities are struggling at the moment. Produce shops are offering long-term bill payment.

Stock agents are wondering what they’re going to do. We have one owner operator who carts our cattle and he’s looking to shift.

Our region has vast areas of land that is only useable for livestock and cattle have proven to be the most profitable by far. The beef industry is big in Queensland and provides $11bn to the economy every year.

Read more

Graphic imagery: floods kill at least 300,000 Australian cattle

Watch: Australian flood leaves ‘a sea of dead cattle’

Farmer Writes: pressure easing after burst of calves
It can get very intense for a short period of time at calving, writes Bill O'Keeffe, with two-thirds of the herd now calved.

We have just finished the first three weeks of calving so the pressure has eased slightly in the yard this week.

We calved 200 cows or two-thirds of the herd in that first three weeks and, with 10 fresh calves to start off and three or four heifers to introduce to the milking herd every day, it can get very intense for that short period of time.

We have a good team in the yard to get through all the work and a good system to keep calves moved on away from the calving area every day. This year we used some redundant stables as a sort of halfway house between the calving box and the calf sheds with the computerised feeders.

The calves were picked up each morning with a crate on the front loader to keep lifting and carrying to a minimum. They were moved to a freshly cleaned out, disinfected and bedded stable and the oldest batch in the next stable was moved on to the auto-feeder or into the pen for beef-calves for sale.

The stables are very warm and sheltered for that all-important first few days and it gave the calves a great start in life.

Not everyone has a few stables lying idle in the yard, but a section of a loose shed could easily be penned out with big bales of straw for those first few weeks to get the same effect, with plenty of comfort and no draughts.

The main herd of cows has been grazing day and night since calving which is a huge bonus both for workload around the yard and for cow health. The freshly calved cows that are being held out of the tank have been run in a separate herd for the last couple of weeks and have been in some nights but out grazing every day as well.

This fresh herd probably peaked at around 50 cows, but we have it down under a single row now or 20 cows. This fresh group get a pick of silage for the first few days, but the main herd has been offered very little silage since calving. We still haven’t opened the maize silage pit and we will just hold tough for the rest of February now and see what March brings and then see if or when we need to dip into it.

We have a good stock of silage bales still to get us through a small pinch and with grass covers at record levels across the farm, we might try to carry this pit of maize into the summer or even into next year and gain back some of the cost we were hit with last spring and summer.

We could end up feeding the maize heavily right through March or April yet so we will just see what happens and see what hand we are dealt by the weather over the next few months. We will have 90% of the herd calved and milking by the first week of March so things can turn around very quickly from there.

We could almost throw the calendar in the bin as it’s a real year to manage the farm to suit what you see in front of you and to adjust to what happens as you go. “What we’ve always done,” doesn’t apply this spring. We’ll see where that takes us over the next few weeks but the rest of February looks good and we’ll welcome every day of uninterrupted grazing with open arms.

Farmer Writes: home farm issues put in perspective
Tommy Moyles investigated two abortions on his farm but a call to friend in Australia put things in a different light.

Two weeks ago I wrote about how quiet and boring everything was on the farm. I jinxed myself with those words.

To start off, two heifers aborted. I found the in-calf heifers and the younger cows had mixed in the shed.

Given they cows were confined to the slats this winter while the heifers had access to a straw bed, they ended up kicking off a bit more steam with their extra space. The ensuing row led to the two heifers losing their calves.

More than one abortion was of concern and set off alarm bells.

Strong consideration will be given to doing a similar blood profile of the in-calf heifers next autumn

I called in the vet to see if there was any worrying underlying issue or if it was a once-off. All the replacement heifers were blooded and the foetuses were sent to the lab.

Thankfully, the results were clear so it was just bad luck. The bloods were clear of salmonella and leptospirosis.

One heifer yet to calve showed up with neospora, so she will be one to watch.

Strong consideration will be given to doing a similar blood profile of the in-calf heifers next autumn.

Having put my mind at ease with those two animals, one of the young bulls was off form and required a vet visit. He was a bit lethargic and not grubbing well.

Thankfully, it was a digestive upset and, following a short treatment, he’s back on the road again.

This bull had a slight rupture underneath since he was born and never kicked on, despite the potential of his breeding.

While he was unable to leave the cattle station for a week, he was grateful to have escaped with no losses

My on-farm issues, however, are a mild inconvenience compared to what Australian breeders in northwest Queensland had to go through. A monsoon-type tropical storm hit the area and has left vast tracts of land under metres of water.

A friend of mine’s property received an inch of rain a day for 10 days on the trot. But that was a drop in the ocean compared to the coastal area three hours east from him, where they got 1.2m of rain in the same time period.

While he was unable to leave the cattle station for a week, he was grateful to have escaped with no losses.

It’s hard to comprehend the figures. They are staggering. Areas that had experienced up to seven years of drought ended up receiving two years’ worth of rain in 10 days.

Horror

I can’t imagine what it is like to deal with something like that. How would you deal with the emotions of initially welcoming a decent day of rainfall and that turning to horror as it doesn’t stop?

The current estimates are that up to 500,000 cattle were lost.

To put that into context, that’s the same as losing all the dairy cows in Cork and Limerick or all of the suckler cows in Munster, Galway, Mayo and Sligo combined.

It’s a sad reality about the current agriculture production model we have, that events like that are required to create a deficit in whichever commodity that we’re also producing for it to benefit us.

This is especially visible in pigs where you now need a disaster to fall on a pig population somewhere else in the world for our own to recover.

The same can be said of most products I suppose.

That is the way of business and life, while you’d like there to be fairness in both, it doesn’t always work out that way.

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