John Heney: Beef is becoming an expensive hobby that most farmers can no longer afford

This bullock was the smallest of a group of John Heney’s four store cattle bought in September last year, averaging 423kg live weight. Factory returns showed that he killed-out a very good 336.5kg with a confirmation grade of O-
This bullock was the smallest of a group of John Heney’s four store cattle bought in September last year, averaging 423kg live weight. Factory returns showed that he killed-out a very good 336.5kg with a confirmation grade of O-
Maurice Carroll, show judge, and Frank Philbin, Townlaheen, Pontoon Road, Castlebar, Co Mayo with his champion bull, Clydagh Mark, at the Limousin Cattle Society Show and Sale at Gort Mart

John Heney

With spring right on our doorstep, it is time to take stock.

In spite of last year's first cut silage coming in a bit wet, my Friesian cattle appear to have maintained their condition fairly well over the winter period.

Experience has taught me that cattle who have been well fed on silage thrive very well when they go out to grass. With this in mind I am happy enough at how things stand.

I have just about finished preparing for the new season. Getting my fencing organised has taken up a good deal of my time and I also managed to finish rebuilding a six metre section of a roadside stone wall which collapsed mysteriously last summer.

After missing out on the fine spell in January, I eventually managed to get lime spread on some grazing fields which I felt had been under performing. I also got my slurry agitated and spread on this year's silage ground at a rate of about 2,000 gallons per acre.

Adding in a good deal of water is a great help when agitating slurry and also helps when spreading.

I like to get slurry spread in damp overcast (not waterlogged) conditions, I find that it helps it absorb into the soil much quicker.

This facilitates the uptake of the available nutrients by the plants and hopefully reduces unwanted nitrous oxide emissions.

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Speaking of soil, I was recently invited to attend a screening of the film Symphony of the Soil in the Cabragh Wetlands Centre near Thurles.

The film explained how important good quality natural soil is for all our futures.

I was really impressed by what I saw and it was a reminder of how we are blessed in Ireland to have such a unique and valuable natural soil resource stretching right across our beautiful landscape.


This film should be obligatory viewing for all farmers, members of our State agricultural advisory services and our government's agricultural policy makers

Biologists continue to tell us of the huge importance of the bugs, the minuscule parasites and nematodes, the mites and all the myriad life forms that buzz, crawl and throb beneath our feet. Biologists now think that these tiny creatures make up the beating heart of the biosphere and that the fate of all life on our planet may depend on the well-being of their fragile worlds.

So as a country which prides itself on producing fresh natural food, what are we doing to protect our valuable soil?

Except for highly commendable efforts to reduce the effects which the overuse of fertilisers may have on water quality and greenhouse gas emissions, it seems the best our experts can do in relation to overall biodiversity is to suggest leaving small and token uncultivated strips along fence lines.

Our National Biodiversity Data Centre has reported that, "of the 3,000 or so species that have undergone a Red List conservation assessment, on average one in every three or four species is threatened with extinction".

What do our farm leaders have to say on this issue?

It appears that critical issues such as the biology and diversity of our soils are well down the agenda compared to the constant debate and warnings about Brexit.

I greatly admire the extreme passion which our farm leaders are currently displaying in relation to the undoubted impact a hard Brexit would have on Irish beef farming.

But it is a bit late in the day to be showing concern for beef producers after years of neglect that has seen beef farming regress into the unfortunate state it is in today.

The tragic reality is that beef farming has now become little more than an expensive hobby for those who can still manage to afford it, and a nightmare for those who can't.

However, to finish on a more positive note, in the midst of all this chaos, a beacon of light appears to have shone on the ongoing climate-change debate in relation to grassland farming.

Tassos Haniotis, who holds a highly influential European Commission post in the Directorate General for Agriculture & Rural Development recently questioned the direction of the debate around greenhouse emissions from farming.

"Could it be that articles that only consider emissions often omit carbon sequestration and ignore the carbon emission problem that would come from converting grassland to alternative food products, overstate the problem?" he asked.

And Mr Haniotis sums up the current debate very well when he stated: "If we want to be politically correct, we had better start by being factually correct"

John Heney farms in Kilfeackle, Co Tipperary email:

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