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Sunday 4 December 2016

'Carbon footprint formula is skewed against suckler cows'

Robin Talbot

Published 12/10/2016 | 02:30

Leonard Betts, Teagasc discusses condition scoring with farmers at the Tipperary Co-op open day on 'Feeding & Managing The Dairy/Dry Cow' at the Solohead research farm. Photo O'Gorman Photography
Leonard Betts, Teagasc discusses condition scoring with farmers at the Tipperary Co-op open day on 'Feeding & Managing The Dairy/Dry Cow' at the Solohead research farm. Photo O'Gorman Photography

The poor old suckler cow - she seems to be getting a hard time lately. She is supposed to be ruining our incomes because she eats too much and she seems to be responsible for global warming because she farts too much.

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I often wonder how much of it is fact or fiction -- or, maybe even, hot air.

In my opinion, the way the carbon footprint is currently calculated is skewed against the suckler cow, simply because the calculations are done on a farm enterprise basis rather than on the whole farm.

I have often suggested that, if the calculation was done on the whole farm, there is actually a huge potential for individual farms to become carbon neutral.

Planting Trees for Suckler Cows

For example, just to pick a figure, if someone had 20 suckler cows and if there was a formula that the farmer knew how many trees to sow to sequest the carbon produced on the farm, surely it is then possible for that farm to become carbon neutral.

At the moment, there is a sort of collective responsibility for managing agricultural carbon emissions but there is a lack of understanding and thus responsibility of what this means at individual farm level.

If this were being sold to farmers the right way, I could see it becoming something they would aspire to. It's a global problem that needs to be tackled at the grass roots.

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Back to the farm, the under 16-month beef bulls are well settled in the shed. When you go up to the shed and nearly all of them are lying down and there is no sign whatever of any aggressive behaviour among them, it is always a good sign that they are content.

We weighted a sample of them recently. It had been 42 days since their previous weighing and, in that time, they had transitioned from a grass based diet in the field with no meal to a concentrate based diet in the shed. Their average gain over that period was 1.5kg/day.

Hopefully, for the final push, that might go up to 1.6 kg/day.

They are on a very simple diet, of Maxammon treated barley, wheat and oats plus molasses, mixed with 5kg silage and 0.6kg of wheaten straw per head per day.

The maiden heifers recently got their booster shot for Lepto plus a treatment for hoose and worms. These heifers have grown well over the summer and, as a group, I'd be well happy with them. We turned the Angus bull out to them yesterday and he will run with them for eight weeks.

Booster

The stock bulls for the main herd have got their Lepto and IBR booster and are ready for action. They will be turned out to the cows on October 20.

At this stage, I have made up my mind that they will be let run with them for a maximum of nine weeks, which means that some of the last cows to calve won't be run with the bull at all.

They will just rear their calves and be fattened. Looking at these cows, they are actually some of the poorer performers in the herd.

I am going on the assumption that 92-93pc of the cows run with the bull will go in calf. If those figures hold up, we will be able to maintain our number of cows, even with the shorter breeding season.

A job that has to be done this week is the emptying of two small slatted tanks that are three-quarters full.

The plan would be to spread this slurry on the last field of new grass that we sowed, which has just been grazed off. I'd like to get the slurry out on it, because it's a dry field, and we'd have a very early pick of grass for the calves next spring.

Before we spread the slurry, if the weather holds dry, I might give the field a run with the Cambridge roller.

I am not a fan of rolling at all, but since it's a new sod, the cows would have put a few toemarks in it and it would get a chance to heal them for the winter.

We have most of the ground ploughed for winter barley and will hopefully get that sowed this week. The hedges have been cut around the tillage fields and we are also going to plough a field of ley, for winter barley. This field has become overrun with dandelions in the last year or so.

The two varieties we have opted for this year are Tower and Infinity. What I know about winter barley seed, you could write on the back of a postage stamp with a crayon but the advice I have been given from those in the know, is that these would be best varieties for us to sow this year.

Robin Talbot farms in partnership with his mother Pam and wife Ann in Ballacolla, Co Laois

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