John Heney: 'Brave face' approach has aided continuing decline in beef farming

Operation Transformation: John Heney says old pasture land still has much to offer the beef farmer, citing the example of this bullock who emerged from the slatted shed in poor condition but has thrived since going to grass on March 22.
Operation Transformation: John Heney says old pasture land still has much to offer the beef farmer, citing the example of this bullock who emerged from the slatted shed in poor condition but has thrived since going to grass on March 22.
The bullock emerged from the slatted shed in poor condition

John Heney

This spring's mild weather has suited my farm with grass growing very well, However, the recent cold spell, especially some very cold nights, have really slowed things down. Hopefully growth will improve again soon and get weight gains back up to normal, particularly after last year's disastrous drought.

Most people agree that grass is by far the cheapest and best form of food for feeding cattle, but I have serious reservations about how this grass is produced

We are constantly being bombarded with advice on the huge benefits of reseeded grassland. While I'm sure that in certain circumstances this approach has its merits, I cannot agree with the implied suggestion that old pastures are somehow inferior or second rate. Take the case of one of my Friesian bullocks who, as can sometimes happen, did very badly in the slatted shed over the winter. He went out to grass looking extremely poor on March 22 but the two photos opposite show just how well he has done in 10 weeks on grass.

I'm sure most people will agree that there can be very little wrong with this centuries old pasture with its natural herbs and native species of grass to get that sort of improvement in just 10 weeks.

This pasture received absolutely no fertiliser and neither was there any dose or supplementary feed used.

Meanwhile, there is a great deal of debate recently on how the €100m EU/Government beef fund should be distributed. While I obviously would not agree with him, I could not help but be impressed by the strident and forceful manner in which one dairy farm leader recently argued that his members were entitled to a share of this emergency beef fund.

His totally unapologetic support for the interests of his members puts into sharp focus the lukewarm nature of many of the voices who speak for us.

The new Beef Plan Movement may turn out to be a real game-changer in this respect, but only time will tell.

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However, the mystery still remains as to why year after year cattle farmers continue to suffer the ongoing decline in their fortunes in almost total silence?

The only explanation I can come up with is that there is still some form of misplaced pride endemic in cattle farming. For whatever reason, cattle farmers have for decades continued to show a "brave face" to the outside world even though all the research clearly shows our economic fortunes continue to decline rapidly.

Again in relation to the €100m Brexit fund I find it very hard not to support the argument that the lion's share of this money should be directed specifically towards our smaller west of Ireland suckler cow herds (say under 20 cows) which is the one farming enterprise most suited to that part of the country

The ongoing threat of Brexit has seriously undermined the future viability of these farms. Most of the calves they produced were historically sold as weanlings before reaching the entitlement age of 10 or 20 months. This has meant they don't tend to enjoy the cushion of a decent Basic Payment entitlement to see them through.

Receiving this money would provide an invaluable lifeline for the future of suckler farming in the west.

And the survival of this way of farming is also critically important not alone for the environment, but also the social fabric of the region.

However, making money from breeding beef cattle must be somehow separated from the beauty competitions favoured by many of the beef breed societies.

If people want to breed extremely high grade cattle so be it, but increasing farm incomes in the west of Ireland must be the number one priority, not winning rosettes.

Indo Farming


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