Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Friday 22 September 2017

British farmers share our fears about post-Brexit landscape

Gerry Giggins

I hosted a group of English beef farmers visiting Ireland last week and the cloud of uncertainty surrounding Brexit, twinned with the impact of the recent British election results, was regaled to me first hand.

While most livestock sector prices have improved upon poor 2016 levels, the spectre of possible trade disruption into our largest beef market looms dangerously on the horizon.

My English visitors also find themselves with similar concerns, particularly as to where British supermarkets may look to source their beef should trade tariffs be placed against Irish/EU beef. They voiced many concerns surrounding South American exports.

And the intricacies of living on one side of the border and frequently travelling to work on the northern side in a post-Brexit, era dawned on me last Saturday. Leaving a farm open day north of Castleblaney, I took the shortest route home, crossing the border on three different occasions.

The local impacts of border closures not to mention the negative impact on agricultural trade between both jurisdictions could be devastating.

Meanwhile, the relatively small number of summer feeders have been bolstered by the welcome positive prices that have been available over the past month.

While weekly kill numbers have continued to exceed 31000, an improved demand from European markets has helped maintain prices. Given the exceptional grazing season since spring turnout, grass cattle are now very close to becoming available for slaughter.

The slight drop in base quotes and larger drop in cow prices over the past week is hopefully only a signal of a temporary slide and not an indication of a general market trend.

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Bird infestation

Bird infestation is an issue that is an increasing problem around summer feeding. Fortunately, at this time of the year starling populations are less visible on farms. However, their place is well and truly substituted by crows, jackdaws, pigeons, magpies etc. Anybody feeding cattle either indoors or outdoors at this time of year will no doubt testify to this.

Crows and jackdaws have recently fledged their nests and are on the lookout for easy sources of food.

Given the types of feeds that are used at this time of year, cattle feed represents an ideal source. Summer feeding is always quite intensive, with low forage and high grain components.

Aside from the obvious fact that the birds will eat any available feed stocks, their droppings, which contain pathogenic fungi, will contaminate the remaining feed.

Quantifying the amount of feed that birds consume and the effect they will have on animal thrive is impossible to measure. However, I always refer to the results of research carried out on dairy farms in the southwest of England a few years ago, that indicates there can be an economic loss of £90 pounds, per 100 animals per day, purely from a feed loss perspective.

In a beef scenario, I would estimate a loss of up to €1 per head, per day from a combination of reduction in live weight gain and physical feed losses. Methods of bird scaring such as the use of kites, squakers, scarecrows, hanging CDs etc are all less effective at this time of year when birds are at their most avaricious.

Bird-proofing feed stores, cattle sheds and feed troughs is now becoming a necessary outlay for anyone feeding intensively over the summer.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based based in Co Louth


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