Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Farm work never stops but I still plan to enjoy a family Christmas

Dairy

Gerard Sherlock

Gerard Sherlock

The last of the weanlings came indoors at the weekend. They didn't take much persuasion as conditions got very wet and cold last week. I clipped their tails and ran the clippers up and down their backs. I also treated them for lice with Ectospec.

I divided them into two groups of older and stronger ones and lighter types. They go on the slats with weanling-sized cubicles for them.

They will get the second cut silage with some straw mixed in and 2kg of a heifer grow ration. When they have been indoors for three weeks they will be dosed with Levacide Diamond. All the other stock will be getting their second lice dose this week, four weeks after the first one. I will also dose the dairy dry stock and in-calf heifers with Zanil.

All cows are getting silage and straw at 0.5kg mixed in the feeder. The dry cows and in-calf heifers are getting 2kg of an 18pc dairy blend. I feed this on top of the silage each morning with 150g/cow of a high spec mineral. I don't mix the blend in the diet feeder as I am tortured with crows. The meal lorry had hardly left the yard when the crows were in flying around. They leave such a mess when they start to pick through the silage. The cows were housed full-time on November 11. I managed to graze 95pc of the farm. There is a nice covering of green grass on all paddocks. Hopefully it will still be there and lots more in early spring.

There are 48 cows milking at present. This will reduce to about 32 by Christmas. They're yielding 13l at 3.92pc fat, 3.30pc protein, an SCC of 184,000 and a TBC of 5,000.

The hoof parer was in last week. There were no major problems. Two cows had some slight mortellaro. We concluded that I should footbath all stock in January. In previous years, I have used formaldehyde and it has worked well.

This week, my farm insurance is up for renewal. It's always a big bill coming up to Christmas. Insurance is complicated by nature and sometimes farmers are guilty of not questioning it too much. But I always talk it through with the insurance adviser each year. The first question should be whether you have adequate insurance. At our local IFA branch AGM recently a local insurance rep pointed out a couple of things I needed to check for myself. The first one was what am I licensed to drive. I discovered that I am not licensed to tow a trailer but I suspect that a lot of people are in the same boat. I rang up my local motor tax office and was told I would have to do the full driving and theory test to get a trailer put on my licence. Another point the insurance rep made is to make sure all the lands occupied with animals are listed on the policy. This is relevant, especially when so many of us rent land. If an animal breaks out from an unlisted townland and causes an accident, there is no cover.

So it's worth sitting down and going through the small print on the policy every year, and that's before you even get stuck into bargaining and shopping around for better deals. Traditionally, I never questioned insurance premiums but that day is long gone.

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I have already mentioned the Christmas word and I'm determined that it should be quality family time for me too. Granted, the cows still have to be milked and fed, but with a bit of organising it can be a great few days. A week before Christmas I check the stocks of detergents and feed and make sure the tractors are full of diesel. I don't want to be running on Christmas Eve looking for cubicle lime. I also strip a bit of extra plastic off the silage pit.

Once Christmas is over the New Year rolls in and with it the profit monitor. The input sheets were handed out at our last discussion group meeting. These have to be returned by mid January and are analysed by the end of January. I have been doing the profit monitor for a long time now and it is the most valuable information I receive in the year.

I'll finish this month with a piece from Kieran McDermott, my former placement student , who has spent the last six months working in New Zealand.

He wrote: "The biggest differences are the size of the herds and the working day. We start at 5am and finish at 5pm. The ratio of cows per labour unit on farms is a lot higher than at home. A 300 cow herd has one full-time labour unit and another for the calving season, which works out at 1.4 labour units/year.

"Most New Zealand farms operate a 'lean and mean' grass -based system with a minimal amount of supplements being fed to cows, although there are some high input farms around. The phrases that I keep hearing from farmers over here are 'money in the bank is more important than milk in the tank' and 'cash is king'.

"Friesian and Jersey crossbreds are the two most popular breeds I have seen, making up about 80pc of the national herd.

"In my opinion, the biggest challenge for New Zealand farmers is debt. Only 7pc of farmers are debt free. Staff retention is a big issue with an annual staff turnover of 120pc. And stricter environmental regulations have been introduced on new farm conversions and farm effluent facilities.

"There are a lot more young people working in agriculture here, with most farm owners retiring in their mid 50s. As a result, opportunities for young people in New Zealand are far greater than in Ireland. The perception of farmers by the general public is also different, with farmer owners viewed as being wealthy individuals."

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas.

Gerard Sherlock is a dairy farmer from Tydavnet, Co Monaghan. Email: gsherlock@eircom.net

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