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Sunday 4 December 2016

Invest in the future and help yourself by becoming host to student farmers

Gerard Sherlock

Published 22/03/2011 | 10:06

Naomi McElwaine, Cavan Macra secretary; Michael Hanley, CEO Lakeland Dairies, sponsor; Michael Gowing, Macra president; and Kaye Duffy, Cavan Macra chairperson, launch the Macra Na Feirme national AGM, which this year takes place in Cavan on May 7
Naomi McElwaine, Cavan Macra secretary; Michael Hanley, CEO Lakeland Dairies, sponsor; Michael Gowing, Macra president; and Kaye Duffy, Cavan Macra chairperson, launch the Macra Na Feirme national AGM, which this year takes place in Cavan on May 7

St Patrick's Day has come and gone and, according to my spring rotation planner, I should have almost two thirds of the grazing paddocks cleaned off. Today it is about half the paddocks. Why have I slipped? The cows went out two weeks later than I had planned, on March 1, instead of February 14, due to covers that were on average as low as 400kg DM/ha

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Moreover, the last two weeks of February were very wet. A tough combination for letting cows out. Cows grazed happily for 12 days until four inches of snow fell. Frost has also returned, leaving grass growth poor. Going on previous experience, I expect a burst of growth soon. My 'magic day' is supposed to be April 4. I am determined to meet this target and to graze as much of the ground as possible this month to set me up for the second rotation.

Urea was spread at a rate of a half bag per acre on most of the milking platform on March 2. I am watching weather conditions carefully this spring for soil temperatures and rain so that I get the most out of my fertiliser as it cost me so much.

Slurry was spread on all silage ground on March 4. It was one of those decisions I had to make quickly. I employ a contractor as my silage ground is all on out-farms. I knew the weather was going to break and I also knew that my ground conditions were passable and no more.

Compact

When a large tractor and a 2,600ga slurry tanker start sinking they can make a right track. The silage ground was bare and well cleaned out so it got around 3,000ga/ac. Storage was OK but when I couldn't hear the dung falling into the tank I knew it was getting full and it was time to act fast.

Calving has been steady enough over the past few weeks although, with just half of the cows calved, maybe not as compact as I would like. Friesian bulls are leaving the farm at two to three weeks of age through the export route.

This year, we've also seen more beef farmers calling to the yard to buy small batches than ever before. I suppose they are just switching to the dairy bull calf as a cheaper option with the way prices have gone in the marts. We started off at €150/hd but this has dropped back to closer to €100/calf now. This suits me down to the ground since I dread having a backlog of bull calves hanging around the place, which are only extra work in my book.

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I remember last year some of the calves nearly knew their own way to the mart since they had been there so many times before I got rid of them.

As we are in peak calving season, we must remember the finer details for every cow as she calves. I try to make sure that every cow gets lukewarm water immediately after calving.

Lukewarm

I heard about the lukewarm water some years back from a Dutch dairyman. I find it helps the stomach to remain in place after calving, thus avoiding displaced abomasums. A cow will drink lukewarm water quicker than cold water. I have seen some cows drink up to seven gallons after calving. All these details will improve the chances of her going back in calf quicker.

This year I made the decision to become a Teagasc host farmer. On Valentine's Day I gave my wife Maura an extra mouth to feed as Kieran, a student from Ballyhaise Agricultural College, began his 12-week placement with me.

For most of us dairy farmers it's a one-man show. To have somebody working with you is a shock but a good one. It reminded me a bit like getting married; suddenly you have somebody else to think about and not just yourself!

The first job on a Monday morning for both of us is to sit down in the farm office and write down the jobs that have to be done and those we want to get done in the week ahead. I get great job satisfaction at the end of the week when I see the list of jobs ticked off as being done -- jobs such as digging a track for a new water pipe that I have been trying to do from last October. Farming can be a 24/7 job if we allow it.

In the last couple of years, agricultural colleges such as Ballyhaise have seen big increases in their numbers. These students need farms to do their placements.

By becoming a host farmer, I believe you are investing in the future of the sector while simultaneously challenging yourself to become more organised in your daily routine.

Gerard Sherlock is a dairy farmer from Tydavnet, Co Monaghan

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