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Cattle trade uncertainty is a bad start to the year


Making a living from cattle farming allows you very little mistakes - John Heney.

Making a living from cattle farming allows you very little mistakes - John Heney.

Making a living from cattle farming allows you very little mistakes - John Heney.

Unlike many people, I really like January but now that we are into February, the lengthening evenings makes us all aware that the countryside is beginning to come alive again as nature anticipates the approaching spring.

I still have a long time to wait for grass mainly because I left cattle out so late and the fact that my low-cost system doesn't allow the luxury of nitrogen for early grass; I also have a lot of work to catch up on as far as fencing and other maintenance work is concerned.

With January's very wet weather continuing into February and developing into the current monsoon-like conditions, I'm finding it difficult to get any work done and as February is such a short month the pressure is growing with each passing deluge.

Of course my primary focus must always be my cattle. It is the beginning of another year and once again I prepare for the rather interesting challenge of growing dairy-sourced Friesian store cattle into beef using just grass alone.

Making a living from cattle farming allows you very little room for mistakes and for me it is all about keeping inputs to an absolute minimum. I have discovered down the years that in spite of all the advertising coming from the agri-food and agrichemical industries, there are no miracles as far as weight gains are concerned.


Repeated claims coming from these sources that increased inputs result in increased incomes are in most cases extremely misleading. The sad reality, backed up by years of miserable income statistics, is that cattle farming, no matter what system you use, certainly won't make you rich.

I should have enough silage to see me through to the spring. However, I'm still not fully certain, as my Friesian cattle appear to have huge appetites and are moving through the pit very quickly.

One thing which disappointed me this year is the amount of waste on the top of the pit. The second cut had very little waste but when I got in to the first cut the waste increased dramatically. Normally I have very little problems regarding waste but this year seems to be the exception.

The pit has also suffered from some bird damage to the plastic which has certainly not helped. I was probably a bit careless distributing the tyres on the top of the pit and this is something which I will have to be more careful with in the future.

On the broader front, the cattle trade continues to be challenging and this doesn't bode well for the future. To add to the uncertainty and in spite of recent 'major' announcements in relation to the current CAP reform, I am still no wiser as to how much I will lose in the new Basic Agrichemical Payment Scheme which replaces the Single Farm Payment. So much for trying to plan ahead.

Elsewhere, nominations are currently being accepted from all farming sectors in the quest to find the 'Zurich Farming Independent Farmer of the Year'. In the beef section, the judges face a real challenge picking a winner in these troubled times. Whoever wins will really deserve their first prize of €2,500. So, get your nominations in.

John Heney farms at Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary. Email:

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