“When a north Antrim farmer takes a fiver out of his wallet the Queen blinks in the light.” Some jokes and stereotypes have a ring of truth about them.

But one investment that this north Antrim farmer can’t do without is fertility checking all cows before starting to AI.

Such checks always uncover a few cows with metritis, a cyst or similar issue that could result in a cow not going in-calf.

If a fertility check can save me wasting four straws of sexed semen over the herd, the procedure has paid for itself, never mind the return on investment from reducing a cow’s calving index.

Prior to the arrival of the vet, all cows to be examined are restrained in locking head yokes, meaning that the vet has almost no downtime (where their arm isn’t lodged up a cow’s back passage). That of course is important to a “financially prudent” Ballymoney farmer who is paying for the vet’s expertise by the minute.

But I do feel sorry for the vet when, after examining over 40 cows they momentarily stop to flex their hand and arm to reduce the cramp, and my father gives them a look that implies “the meter is running while you’re doing that”. As I, said not all stereotypes are totally untrue.


On the theme of stereotypes, I’m not someone who signs up to the theory that we would all be better off without Stormont politics. Of course, it is far from perfect, but as farmers, we should be extremely grateful for devolved political powers in the current climate, and cherish the fact that we have locally accountable ministers who recognise the importance of agriculture to NI.

As farmers, we should be extremely grateful for devolved political powers in the current climate

We are about to enter a period of potentially drastic change for our industry and it is imperative that we have politicians willing to work with us as we address the realities of a post-Brexit, post-COVID-19 and increasingly environmentally-focused future.

I do not believe any direct-rule minister from Westminster would be willing or able to give us this level of attention or co-operation, and few seem to have any real understanding of farming (the decision to ban live exports in England and Wales is a good example of that).

Festive season

As COVID-19 regulations are relaxed a little in NI over the short Christmas period, there will be some limited festive socialising going on in each other’s homes.

This can be an issue for myself and other farmers I know, as we can have the irritating habit of falling asleep at inappropriate moments while visiting friends and family.

After a long day of physical work, much of it spent in the cold, it’s all too easy to doze off, particularly on a sofa in front of a warm fire (I have dozed off mid-conversation in such an environment).

If you are in company of a farmer who is found to be ‘social snoozing’ over the Christmas season, I ask for your understanding

But it’s not limited to this situation. In church, after busy week at silage, I once succumbed to sleep in the middle of the sermon (this is in no way a reflection on the quality of the preaching). My mother gave me a sharp poke in the side, resulting in me waking suddenly and kicking the pew in front with a terrible bang.

I could feel the entire congregation looking at me with great amusement. The adrenaline rush from this panic and humiliation ensured I didn’t fall asleep for the remainder of the service.

So, if you are in company of a farmer who is found to be ‘social snoozing’ over the Christmas season, I ask for your understanding. After all, this is the year that famers have been recognised as ‘essential workers.’

It may be seem strange to you, or embarrassing if you are with them, as they begin to snore or argue about milk prices in their sleep, (I have apparently done this), but feeding the world is an extremely tiring job. Let sleeping farmers lie.

A happy Christmas, and a prosperous and safe new year to all.

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