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Brighter outlook as we enter May

May Day is here and it's the month when the dairy farmer should make most money. The past 6-8 weeks have been tricky. As I write, cows are still indoors by night.

They haven't been out any night so far. Since February 29, they have been outdoors 53 days out of 63.

My grass growth has been poor, and it's not being helped with the severe night frosts. It was green in January and February but today it is every colour but green.

There are 68 cows milking at the moment. They are averaging 29l at 3.67pc fat and 3.15pc protein. This works out at 2.03kg milk solids per cow per day. The TBC is at 5,000 and SCCs are at 102,000.

Cows are being fed 6kg of an 18pc protein, 0.95 UFL maize ration in the parlour. They are also being fed 20kg of silage.

I still feed the silage through the diet feeder as the cows can be more picky with blocks of silage. There are seven cows left to calve. These should do so by the end of this month. Last month, I lost two calves at birth. The two cows were watched well enough but simply calved two dead calves. All the other calves are thriving well. A batch of 16 was weaned and moved from the calf house to the slatted house.

It's not ideal, but when the weather improves they will go outdoors. These calves are being fed a 16pc calf rearer nut and good quality hay, all ad-lib. I use the nut rather than a blend so as not to feed the crows. The rest of the calves are being fed milk and calf crunch. I don't use any milk replacer.

Calves seem to do fine on whole milk as long as they get enough of it. But it is a balancing act. If they drink a lot of milk they won't eat much crunch. When calves are 10-14 days they are moved from individual pens to groups of 4-6. Milk is poured into a trough with another trough for the crunch.

Every 2-3 days the crunch is removed and fed to older animals. Fresh crunch seems to be more encouraging. To date, all calves have had negative BVD ear tests. I did have some trouble with calf scour at one week old. Luckily, all calves survived thanks to plenty of electrolytes. This year, I used Boviferm Plus which seems to work quickly. It can be fed with milk. It's the time it takes feeding a sick calf. One sick calf takes as long as feeding 100 healthy ones.

Last week I got a shock when I opened my electricity bill. It amounted to €791 for 63 days, which is €12.50 per day. I compared it to the previous one which was €9.30 per day. This works out at 0.8c/litre milk.

A lot of milk was being cooled during the hot days of the end of March. I am expecting a grant application for a new and more efficient tank to be approved, so it can't come too soon.

Niall, my placement student, will finish this week. The placement went very well. When cow numbers increase, the workload does too and the important smaller jobs benefit greatly from the second person.

Breeding has begun. So far, I would be disappointed as there seems to be a lot of cows repeating. The team of bulls I am using this year are GJM, BQB, LHZ, TSK, IRP, LZD and LLK. These were selected on high fertility and high milk solids (protein mainly). Twenty-four maiden heifers were weighed on April 3.

Their average weight was 311kg with an average daily gain from birth of 0.71kg/day. Sixteen of the oldest and heaviest, with an average weight of 340kg, were selected for serving. Five of the remaining eight should be ready to serve in mid-June. The vasectomised bull has worked well with these heifers. Eleven were picked up and AI'd with the other five programmed.

A new enterprise has evolved with the arrival of two pet lambs. I don't bother with dogs or cats so I had to compromise for the children. So far so good.

Gerard Sherlock is a dairy farmer from Tydavnet, Co Monaghan. Email:

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