Darragh McCullough: The drought is costing me €7,000 extra a week in feed bills

Darragh McCullough on his farm in Stamullen, Co Meath. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Darragh McCullough on his farm in Stamullen, Co Meath. Photo: Gerry Mooney
The farm has a 'get out of jail' card with 200 acres of second cut silage lined up.
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

As the country continues to bask in sunshine, farmers with drought conditions face mounting feed bills as grass growth remains severely curtailed.

Darragh McCullough, who farms in partnership with Joe Leonard in Meath, says the drought means the farm feed bills has increased by €7,000 a week.

"We've had less than 10pc of normal rainfall for the last two months so now we are feeding 13t of silage and 2.5t of meal daily, which adds up to a unforeseen feedbill of about €7K/week."

The dairy herd of 585 cows, he says, are being fed 20 bales of silage a day and the labour and diesel costs to do this, he says amounts to another couple of hundred a week and has to be accounted for.

But, despite the intervention with extra feed, milk yields are also well down on the farm.

"Our milk yields are down too. Last year we were milking 520 cows land delivering the same amount of milk  as we are today with 65 extra cows.

The farm's 'get out of jail card', he said, is 200 acres of second cut silage it has lined up. "We had a tidal wave of grass growth at end of April/early May and got 500 bales made then.

"That's all that's being used at the moment but at 20 bales a day, we have enough for 25 days before we have to touch the silage pit, which is locked up for the winter."

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The accountancy and financial advisory firm IFAC warned that the current heatwave sweeping the country is costing an average dairy farmer €250 per day or €1,750 per week.

Between the anticipated extra costs for feed because of poor grass growth and additional in parlour feed costs to maintain milk production, farmers are feeling the financial pinch.

Fodder Budget

IFAC CEO John Donoghue the current spell of hot weather will have a knock-on effect on the levels of fodder that a farmer can store for the winter so on farm planning needs to happen now to ensure that farmers can have access to and can afford to buy in additional feed stock.

He advised farmers to work with their banks now to let them know how they’re planning to manage the additional costs brought on by this heatwave and how they’re going to pay their bills over the winter.

He also advised farmers to get a fodder budget in place to cover additional costs for the winter and to ensure they won't be left short.

Meanwhile, Teagasc has set up a help line for farmers who want to speak to an advisor regarding options for feeding stock given the continuing decline in grass growth rates throughout the country.

Farmers can contact this help line at 087 7971377 from 9am to 9pm each day. There are also a series of clinics and events taking place around the country where advice will be available for farmers.

Chairman of the Interagency Fodder group, Dermot McCarthy, Teagasc, said grass growth rate has declined to nil in parts of the south east and on individual fields and farms in the south and midlands. 

"Given that the weather forecast indicates no significant rain for at least another week, it is important that farmers make best use of remaining grass supplies and make the best decisions regarding meal and silage supplementation."”

Currently Teagasc and the interagency group are carrying out a fodder census to establish the levels of silage in pits which was meant for feeding next winter. 

Teagasc is also holding events throughout the country which will deal with fodder and feed management in the current drought. 

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