Robin Talbot: We are €200/hd worse off on young bull sales

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
'Our slurry spreading got turned on its head last spring'

Robin Talbot

I recently sat down in front of the computer and compared the sale of Under 16-month bulls sold in the back end 2017 and those sold in the comparable period 2018. As suspected, it wasn't pretty viewing.

In 2018, the bulls averaged just 10kg carcase weight lighter, they made 18c/kg less and they cost €80/head more to finish. So the class of 2018 are leaving us almost €200/head worse off than the previous year.

Also, we have more bulls left back this year because they hadn't enough fat cover to be slaughtered at Under 16-months, so it looks like they will make the price gap even bigger.

If this is replicated on the heifers, which we have no reason to expect otherwise, and this were to become the new norm, it would be a clear indicator that our system is no longer viable.

It has been the perfect storm for our system.

The bulls were lighter coming into the shed because of the shortage of grass during the drought, poorer price for beef and higher feed costs.

Any one of them on their own would be testing but all three together is more than a system operating on tight margins can absorb.

But now is not the time for us to make any rash decisions.

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The stock bulls have been removed from the cows. We have heifers due to be scanned next week, so the cycle continues.

I see a few cows bulling at the moment but hopefully it is nothing of concern.

It has been an extremely difficult year to keep cows and calves clean in the straw sheds.

Every day, we use more straw than we ever have. The last time we cleaned out the sheds, just before Christmas, we decided to make a few changes.

In one instance, we had two different groups side by side in the one shed. We divided off part of the shed as a creep area for the calves and let all the cows run together.

This has worked really well. The cows were happy while the calves took to their new creep area almost instantly, and they now have access to a clean dry bed 24/7.

Our plan would be to replicate this arrangement for all calves next year.

Almost half our calves also have access to a field. With a few adjustments on this front, we might be able to let another group out as well.

Even though the weather has been really mild, and some of the sheds are a lot stuffier than you would like, so far, touch wood, we have had no health issues with the calves.

All the cows and calves have been treated recently for fluke, worms and lice.

So hopefully that will see them safely through to spring grazing.

Another thing we have to do in the next few weeks is the one job I detest, our annual TB test. But I suppose it's a necessary evil and I suppose its just a matter of getting stuck into it … and hope for the best.

Our plan for slurry this spring is to spread as much as we can with a trailing shoe.

Our slurry spreading last spring got turned on its head. We had plenty of grass, which we had planned to graze out and then spread slurry.

However, the weather intervened and we ended up neither grazing the grass or spreading the slurry. We ended up putting practically all our slurry out on our stubble ground.

So, though there is a lot of grass around at the moment, we will spread the slurry with a trailing shoe and hopefully it won't contaminate the grass.

Our winter feed supplies, especially our silage, are starting to concern us. We are monitoring it regularly. But we will certainly be hoping for an early turnout or we will be in trouble again.

Though, we have adequate amounts of straw and barley so we can stretch the silage a little bit more if needs be.

The winter cereals are very green, with a good stand of plants. So hopefully they won't get any set-back and will power on when the growth comes.

We clipped the backs and trimmed the tails of all the beef heifers. It has certainly left them a lot happier in the shed.

We don't do the cows, as their sheds are far more open. We never trim the cows tails until the day they are actually being turned out.

I heard someone say their New Year's resolution is never to mention 2018 again. Roll on, 2019, hope it's your best year yet!

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

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