We’ve had some nice summer rain again this week in Clara, which should set us up well for grazing right through the rest of the summer. Hopefully nobody is suffering too much yet from too much water on heavier land.
We have a big hole left in our grass growth curve for the year after the dry May/June conditions, but it usually comes later in the summer so it might even balance out now, with surplus grass developing all over the farm.
The rain is also driving on our multispecies reseed on the young stock ground, so it should be ready to graze in another two weeks. We reseeded this whole block of ground so there’s no activity over there at the moment.
It was nice to see a family of kestrels taking advantage of the peace and quiet to feed their newly fledged chicks this week and, hopefully, they will get a good chance to give them as good a start in life as possible before we move the calves back over, later this month.
I am writing this ahead of the RTÉ Investigates programme as we are away this week but it is expected to focus on animal welfare and the practice of breeding male animals with little or no value other than for export to European veal units.
Beef price is a factor here to some extent and we can claim that if we don’t export some calves, we will flood the domestic market even more and reduce the value of the better calves as well.
We can do better than that though, and look at the bigger picture. In my opinion we have arrived at this juncture of breeding a lower grade, by-product calf by following misguided advice for the last 20 years.
All the focus was on the economics of the milk production system. Ryegrass swards with all other species eliminated. Large amounts of cheap fertiliser to push grass and an extreme dairy cow to process it efficiently into milk.
It was milk only, with no regard to the calf or to the beef farmer that was expected to take on the calf and try to make a profit from his part of the deal.
Most family farms have held the middle of the road through this period with a stronger black-and-white cow, producing a decent enough calf to sell locally and, more importantly, looking after that calf to the best of their ability up to the day it leaves their farm to give the next man the best chance of success.
We have more sexed semen now and a dairy beef index, which is helping, but we can go much further
If we are honest, the bull calf was deemed irrelevant for a long period of time right from the top of our research and advisory service down to the farm gate.
We have more sexed semen now and a dairy beef index, which is helping, but we can go much further.
Our co-ops are paying the same milk price to farmers whose male calves never see three weeks of age, as they pay to those who finish their own beef at 20 to 22 months, for example. They need to incentivise best practice with a bonus or penalise the worst offenders.
The same can be said for the Department of Agriculture. It has the figures but there is no disincentive for bad practice. There is no clear message to improve welfare standards above a very basic level.
We have access to a Brexit reserve fund that could be used to fund the establishment of domestic veal units, for example, which would eliminate the need for calf export.
We can’t expect to market ourselves as having a top-quality, premium-branded, grass-fed product, while some of our producers continue to adopt a yellow-pack production system. The majority of our family farm producers are doing an excellent job but are being seriously let down by a few bad actors taking shortcuts.
We need farmers to realise that the social tolerance for some practices on farm is coming under pressure and while we will never align ourselves with the vegan movement, we need to listen to the other 90% of consumers and bring our production systems up to the standards that they expect.