Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Wednesday 18 July 2018

Opinion: It's the women with off-farm jobs who are keeping the beef show on the road

What a difference a few weeks makes; John Heney’s store cattle were looking under the weather when they first were let out but are clearly thriving are a few weeks of grass and sunshine, as can be seen by the before (inset) and after photos of this particular animal.
What a difference a few weeks makes; John Heney’s store cattle were looking under the weather when they first were let out but are clearly thriving are a few weeks of grass and sunshine, as can be seen by the before (inset) and after photos of this particular animal.
What a difference a few weeks makes; John Heney's store cattle were looking under the weather when they first were let out but are clearly thriving are a few weeks of grass and sunshine

John Heney

We can say what we like about 2018, but for me it was simply the year when we not alone got no spring but every day appeared to bring some new problem or challenge.

The winter just went on and on and then, suddenly in the middle of May, summer arrived.

This rearrangement of the seasons caused huge fodder problems for many farmers and while I was lucky to have enough silage, getting my timing right in relation to letting cattle out to grass was where the problems lay.

It was early April before the first of my cattle eventually went out.

However, I now realise that I should have let the rest of the cattle out far sooner but after so many 'false dawns' in relation to grass growth, I'm afraid nature had the last laugh on me.

This delay resulted in some fields getting a bit strong and as baled silage doesn't suit the narrow feeding passage in my shed, taking out a paddock wasn't an option that I really wanted to take.

I've had to do a good deal of moving cattle around to try and overcome the problem. It isn't the perfect solution, but I feel I have the situation more or less under control with of course a little help from my topper.

The good news was that the sudden increase in temperatures meant that I had my silage in and covered by May 27.

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While it was cut very dry and benefited from a lovely sunny day on the ground before being raked-up that evening, it was unfortunately subjected to some overnight rain before it was picked up next morning.

This was disappointing but it doesn't appear to have affected the quality that badly with just a small amount of effluent coming from the pit.

Silage yields appear much better than last year and the dry weather also allowed me the opportunity to get some lime spread on a portion of the areas cut.

I also got the remainder of the winter slurry spread on ground which I have ear-marked for a second cut. I generally don't like spreading slurry in dry weather but this is just another example of how I appear to be getting things not quite right this year.

Overall, it's a struggle to get the farm back on a even keel after the long winter but I suppose it's that constant struggle with the forces of nature which makes farming such an interesting occupation.

The most important question on any cattle farmers mind at the moment is how are cattle thriving?

After a very slow start my cattle now appear to be doing well. However, with everything running so far behind they still have a lot of catching up to do.

As I rely totally on grass to finish my cattle and with the last of them out on grass barely a month, finishing cattle this year will probably take a lot longer than usual.

Export markets

How this delay will affect the trade in the latter half of the year is anyone's guess but hopefully all the talk we hear about new export markets will materialise .

Experience, though, suggests that this is far from being a given.

The income figures for the cattle sectors in the recent Teagasc farm survey once again expose the contrast between reality and perceptions about the beef sector.

While cattle farmers continue to collectively whinge about the unsustainably low incomes in their sector, at an individual level it appears that human nature compels these same farmers to display a pretence of normality and keep the best side out.

If we as individual farmers continue to passively accept these low income levels for our hard work, no one else is going to do anything for us - least of all our politicians - and, unfortunately, it also appears our farming organisations.

These criticisms may appear strong, but after decades of miserably low incomes in our sector it is very difficult to draw any other conclusion.

I feel that it's is also important at this stage to acknowledge that it's the working wives and partners of beef farmers who are the real heroes on many of our cattle farms.

In many cases, they are the ones actually keeping the show on the road.

John Heney farms in Kilfeackle, Co Tipperary


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