Farm Ireland

Friday 19 January 2018

Cattle thriving after a stress-free turnout

John Heney tags all his cattle when he buys them. Stock photo
John Heney tags all his cattle when he buys them. Stock photo

John Heney

In spite of the recent return to wintery conditions I cannot remember a more perfect spring for letting out cattle. The transition from indoors to outdoors was practically seamless with the weather causing little or no stress on cattle.

A good start is hugely important for my low-cost grass finishing system. In spite of all the favourable weather I did however manage to mess up a bit on my spring grass management.

Last October I stopped off a number of paddocks, intending to use them for lame animals who needed to be taken out of the shed. However, rather than using these paddocks I just fed the cattle silage in a confined area, reserving the fresh paddocks for spring grazing.

My mistake was that I didn't graze these fields early enough so they actually got a bit too strong. This would have been ok if the spring had turned out harsh but with all the fine weather it has probably held them back somewhat as I tried to get them to clean off these fields.

It's difficult to get it right every time but who knows, the recent sub zero night conditions may prove me right yet. However, on a positive note, growing conditions are bound to improve as we move towards the middle of May.

As usual I haven't grazed any of my first-cut silage ground. Some of it got slurry last October while the remaining fields got slurry in February. It then got nitrogen around March 26, so all going well it should be ready for cutting in the latter half of May - weather permitting.

The silage fields have covered in well so far and appear not to have been affected by the prolonged dry spell in April or the recent cold conditions.

Another unusual thing I found this year was the very high number of lost tags, about 10pc in all. Apparently a batch of faulty tags in 2013 is to blame.

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Fortunately I tag all of my cattle when I buy them with my own farm tag, so I had no problem identifying the animals with the missing tags. However, it was a job I could well do without

The fine weather brought another bonus in the form of 10 beautiful Mallard ducklings born on a small piece of ground I fenced-off for that purpose adjoining the pond in the 'high field'.

Escorted by their very attentive mother, they look a beautiful sight in the April sunshine. It's a number of years since ducklings were hatched out on the pond and it was really great to see them back.

Income levels

Unacceptably low levels of incomes have always been a problem in the cattle sectors.

I was therefore completely taken aback by recent comments made by our Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, who said that "it's nonsense to compare beef incomes with those in the dairy sector...unless you start comparing a similar size herds, and like with like."

However, these "like with like" income figures actually do exist and are published annually in the Teagasc National Farm Survey.

The 2013 income figures (including all subsidies) for larger 50-100ha (124-247 acre) full-time farms are listed below and conflict directly with the minister's comments:

Annual income on cattle rearing systems: €18,427

Annual income on cattle other systems: €28,203

Annual income on dairying: €83,022

These differences are massive and unless incomes on cattle farms are brought in line with incomes with those of dairying it does not bode well for the future of an industry which is one of Ireland's key agricultural export earners at €3.3bn per annum.

John Heney is a beef farmer from Kilfeakle, Co Tipperary.


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