Wednesday 28 September 2016

Beef: First cut was good on the stem but light in the pit

John Heney

Published 15/06/2016 | 02:30

There was a sudden burst of growth in May.
There was a sudden burst of growth in May.

Our weather so far this year has been a real rollercoaster, but with the return of the rain showers it looks as if it's back to business as usual as far as our Irish summer is concerned.

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I must confess that the sudden burst in growth in May caught me slightly off guard with some paddocks getting a bit ahead of my cattle.

I was able to get things back on track by moving some of the cattle just left out of the shed onto this area and, thankfully, my grass supply appears well under control.

Thrive-wise, as we expected the cattle which were let out early are continuing to do well while the later bunches are slow to get going.

Isn't it amazing how much better Friesian cattle look when they have a bit of condition on them and of course this also makes herding them a far more pleasant experience.

I was discussing with a friend how well cattle were thriving this year in spite of the poor spring.

He quite rightly reminded me that the very mild weather last autumn resulted in cattle going into the sheds in much better condition than usual and therefore were in much better condition going out on grass.

I feel that he could have a very good point.

I have often noticed that when store cattle are very poor going into the sheds, it's very difficult to get them going the following spring when they go out to grass.

So obviously the opposite should be the case when they are in good condition leaving the shed.

I got my silage cut on May 24, but while it looked relatively good on the stem, I'm afraid I was very disappointed at how it bulked-out in the pit.

I had hoped to have extra silage facing next winter, but I'm not too worried as it's early days yet.

Quality wise, it should be very good as very little stem had developed and it was wilted for 24 hours before being picked up. I suppose it would have been virtually impossible to save bad silage over the last few weeks

Luckily I was able get my slurry tanks emptied straight away. It went out on a portion of the cut ground which I am stopping for a second cut.

Fingers crossed, there will be a good response to make up for the light first cut, although I am concerned that a lot of the nitrogen in the slurry may have been lost to the very dry warm weather.

The rest of the silage fields are recovering nicely and with the return of the rain they should be ready for grazing soon.

The introduction of this ground into my grazing system will hopefully compensate for any fall-off in grass growth over the summer.

Meanwhile, as we ponder the many issues which are affecting Irish farming, we seldom think about the generations of farmers who have worked and survived on this same land for hundreds and indeed thousands of years before it became our responsibility to care for it.

Economic War

The old mounds and cultivation ridges created by previous generations of farmers and which now force us to slow down as we travel across them on our tractors often make me wonder what were the concerns and worries of the people who created these ridges using just hand tools.

In the 19th century, farming suffered the catastrophe of the potato famine and in the 1930s farmers also suffered deeply from the 'economic war' waged with Britain.

Struggle and controversy has always been part and parcel of producing food in Ireland and the current threat posed by the possible exit of Britain from the EU should not come as any great surprise.

By the way, I am at a total loss to understand the case being made by some people who suggest that we in Ireland should also considering leaving the EU if Britain does. These people appear to have very short memories.

We should not forget that right up until the late 1960s, Ireland for all intents and purposes was a poverty-stricken nation.

We had lost nearly one million people in emigration since the formation of our state and, as we were by and large cut off from the rest of Europe, Irish farmers had little alternative but to supply our nearest neighbour with food at whatever price they chose to pay us.

We should not forget that in the 1960s, our heavy beef cattle were making under one hundred pounds a head and having to compete directly with boatloads of cheap South American beef for the British market

Our entry into what was then called the EEC changed all that.

While we still rely hugely on exports to Britain, many other markets are now open for our farming produce and even if Britain decides to go its separate way, we are no longer so critically dependent on them for our food exports.

A 'Brexit' would of course hurt us deeply but nothing lasts forever and change is inevitable.

It would indeed be a great challenge for Irish farming , but with our fertile land and climatic advantage we are better prepared than most to face this challenge.

Hopefully, it won't come to that, but the one thing which I have found in farming is that you can never afford to be complacent.

John Heney is a beef farmer from Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary

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