Robin Talbot: Even if we cull all Irish sucklers, that's just one tenth of 1pc of the global bovine population

Robin Talbot pictured on the family farm in Ballacolla, Co Laois is a lifelong suckler farmer. Photo: Alf Harvey
Robin Talbot pictured on the family farm in Ballacolla, Co Laois is a lifelong suckler farmer. Photo: Alf Harvey

Robin Talbot

Beef, and especially the suckler cow, has been getting a lot of bad press lately. I just wish people would take a step back and see the bigger picture.

Climate change is a global problem so it needs a global approach. To listen to some commentators, you'd think that slashing suckler cow numbers is a silver bullet.

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There are just over one billion cattle on the planet, of which one million are Irish suckler cows. So, if we got rid of all our suckler cows, it would cut the global bovine population by less than one-tenth of one per cent.

The vast majority of beef farmers want to minimise the carbon footprint of their system, but the only thing we are being told to do is get rid of our cows.

For example, we know that trees and hedging are good at sequestering carbon, but how good are they, and why is this not taken into account?

We recently measured the length of our internal farm hedges (using a phone app), which we manage in an environmentally responsible manner.

We now know that we have approximately 20 metres of hedgerow for every suckler cow (across the sector, the figure could be a lot higher).

We then set about trying to find out how much carbon sequestration this would amount to.

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We spent hours trawling through all kinds of reports with scientific formula but ended up none the wiser.

When it comes to growing grass, we're regularly told you can't manage what you don't measure; surely that should also apply in this instance? How come nobody in a position to make a difference is standing up for the suckler cow? The debate seems to be overly simplified and the discussion unbalanced.

Meanwhile, calving is proceeding at pace.

I don't think we ever had as many cows calved this early in the calving season, over 70pc to date.

Thankfully, we've have had very few issues, although we did lose one calf, as a result of a difficult birth. But we have found it to be a particularly bad year for mastitis.

Also, what we have found, with so much grass around, is that a few cows are producing far too much milk too soon after calving. Their udders are obviously getting quite tender and they are not letting the calf suck.

We have had to bring in a significant number of cows and put them on hay for a few days until the calves are able to manage the milk supply. We will definitely be looking at culling some of those cows once they have reared their calf.

I don't think we ever had as much grass around the farm at this time of year.

So, at this stage, it's looking as if we mightn't spread any more fertiliser.

Considering the hit our system has taken over the past 18 months, anything that cuts down our running costs is to be welcomed.

Our young bulls all got a live IBR vaccine last week. We also trimmed the hair on their tails. An untrimmed tail gets walked on when they come into the shed for finishing and is also a magnet for dirt.

At the moment, these bulls are grazing excellent quality grass.

But I wasn't happy that they were utilising the quality of the grass because it was actually running through them.

So, last week, we introduced a buffer feed. This consists of some silage, barley, molasses and straw. It seems to have done the trick. But we will shortly introduce them to their finishing diet.

As has been our practice, we will do this about a week before they come into the shed. This means that they evolve from grass-only to a finishing diet over a period of time, so there is no disruption to their thrive.

We will weigh them all going into the shed. They look to be well on target. Unfortunately, the only thing off-target is the expected price!

Our harvest has finished up. All the straw is baled and most of it is in the shed.

Our winter barley came in just short of 4t/ac. Our oats came in at 3.6t/ac and the quality is excellent. Our winter wheat came in at 4.25t/ac.

The barley, wheat and oats that we are keeping for animal feed, has all been treated with Maxammon.

Straw is extremely plentiful this year. So we chopped the oaten straw out behind the combine. It was quite poor quality and wouldn't have been suitable for feeding.

Looking to the future, we are definitely going to increase our tillage acreage.

After chatting to a few people, we decided we are going to try some winter oilseed rape, a new crop for us.

I believe it is an excellent break crop and we have some tillage ground that has been in continuous barley for a long time.

Robin Talbot farms in partnership with his mother Pam and wife Ann in Ballacolla, Co Laois

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