Thankfully, our spring barley harvest 2023 is safely gathered in – all 15 acres of it.
With the crop burnt off the previous week, it was standing perfectly, with Dad enjoying a blissful autumn harvest day atop our 59-year-old MF 400. The sun was shining, dust rising, and Angie Philips had forecast at least three dry days – bliss.
I had just tedded out the straw on the half of the field that had been cut and went back to the yard to empty the grain trailer.
As I got out of the tractor to undo the backdoor latch, Millie, our oldest collie, came running over, clinging to my side to a point where I almost tripped over her and proceeded to clamber into the tractor cab.
At this point, I realised just how dark the skies were becoming. Millie only acts in such a manner when thunder is near and, sure enough, by the time I returned to the field, the sky was lit up with the first strikes of lightening, quickly followed by a torrential downpour.
Fortunately, the following day was much improved, allowing enough time to complete combining, but the forecast would not permit us to get the straw dry enough to make small bales.
I was keen to get the field cleared of straw so we could direct-drill a reseed. A local contractor managed to find the time to get the field round-baled and wrapped, and before we had removed the last of the bales, he had another tractor in the field with a Moore Unidrill completing the reseed.
Normally, we would apply slurry after drilling, but considering the conditions, we were happy just to be able to top-dress it with fertiliser. Given the challenging conditions, it will be interesting to see how effectively grass is established.
“You Irish just feed meal so you can lure your cows into your tiny, dark milking parlours” – that was the unfiltered comment I received many years ago while on a work placement in New Zealand.
In truth, I could lure a Fleckvieh heifer almost anywhere with the prospect of a 16% protein dairy nut, although other breeds are perhaps a bit more cautious.
Calving is well underway, and so is the education of fresh heifers to the milking routine. The six Fleckvieh-cross heifers calved to date only have to be directed towards the parlour entrance and they will rush in with a determination that reminds me of Tadhg Furlong powering over a try line.
Once in position (and allocated their feed), they will stand perfectly while I strip, spray, clean and attach the clusters.
Their Holstein compatriots are slightly more predisposed to the odd kick (which from their perspective is perfectly understandable) and repeated removal of the cluster, often accompanied with a torrent of dung.
However, it still doesn’t compare to the aggression I received from Kiwi-cross heifers I worked with in New Zealand.
In a concerted effort to assess Johne’s Disease status and eliminate it from the herd, last year we started a programme of testing milk samples as part of our milk recording.
So far, we have identified two cows classified as high risk and four as medium – as a result, all of these cows were culled.
While I understand some dairy farmers will effectively manage such cows within their herd so that they cannot spread infection, for simplicity and peace of mind we chose the lowest risk option. Also, because we cannot be sure of a maiden heifer’s Johne’s status, I don’t use her colostrum to feed to offspring, but instead feed the calf with either fresh or frozen colostrum from a low-risk cow.
Hopefully, it is a process that will reduce the likelihood of transmission of Johne’s to the next generation, but it does require storage of a large amount of colostrum.
As understanding and good-natured as my mother is, I think she was fed up of going through stacks of 4kg bags of frozen milk to find a pack of peas. Dad has now spoiled her with a separate freezer just for colostrum, and it wasn’t even her birthday.