Farm Ireland

Monday 19 March 2018

Farmer says dry weather has run rings around the forecasters

Ricki Barrett from Ballinhassig pictured at the Agricultural show at Belgooly Co Cork was with his overall champion dairy cow with judge Sean MacSweeney and cattle steward Martin O'Regan. Photo: Denis Boyle
Ricki Barrett from Ballinhassig pictured at the Agricultural show at Belgooly Co Cork was with his overall champion dairy cow with judge Sean MacSweeney and cattle steward Martin O'Regan. Photo: Denis Boyle
Henry Walsh

Henry Walsh

To date the year 2017 just keeps on giving. After an exceptionally dry, mild winter we had a very reasonable spring. April really continued the trend with only a tiny proportion of normal rainfall - a local weather station recorded just 8mm for the entire month.

This was in stark contrast to the predictions of Ken Ring, the best known long-term weather forecaster in the world.

He indicated we would have up to 20 wet days in the west and 25pc more rainfall than normal. This dry weather continued into May and for a period impacted on our grass growth as the moisture deficit increased.

However, while we were short of grass for a few weeks all the calves, maiden heifers and cows were thriving and enjoying the sun on their backs along with a dry lie.

During May, this extreme dry period which led to drought also saw one of the biggest fires ever in the west when a large area of forestry went ablaze in the Cloosh Valley in Connemara. We are maybe 30 miles east of the valley, but one evening a smog engulfed the region and rolled all the way out to us before it dispersed. It is clear that under-grazed commonage adjacent to forestry is a high-risk combination.

This wonderful weather along with extra cows on farms has helped propel milk output during May to record levels to all the milk processors.

When combined with a solid milk price, it really does present us with the opportunity to move forward following the very difficult year endured in 2016.

At present, the cows are producing 24 litres at 4.28pc fat and 3.65pc protein or 1.95kg/ms per day and we are feeding 1.6kg of a 14pc dairy ration.

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The milking platform is stocked at 3.7 cows to the hectare giving us a demand of 57 kg/ha/day. Average farm cover is 662 kg/dm/ha or 180 per cow which is a little high in a period of excellent growth.

No part of the milking platform will be closed long term for silage so any surplus will be harvested as good quality grass bales.

We have now completed five weeks of AI, so similar to last year we will switch to short gestation easy calving Hereford and Angus straws.

This year, we exceeded our replacement heifer target in four weeks and hopefully we can do the same next year.

I noticed a bit of coughing in the cows last week and while it was across different lactations I made a decision to treat all first calvers and any light second calvers with a zero milk withdrawal product.

This is very early for us but I suspect when the coughing starts the lung worms are already impacting on the cows. We may still treat the entire herd in late June as normal.

Henry and Patricia Walsh farm in Oranmore, Co Galway, along with their son, Enda, and neighbour and out-farm owner John Moran

* On a personal note, my Dad, Mattie, passed away on Sunday morning, May 14. Thankfully it was peaceful and I was with him, as I was so often throughout my life.

Dad was born a twin, the youngest of 10 children, 85 years ago. He had a wonderful outlook on life.

He had a love of animals, a love of the land, but above all, a love of people.

For me one of the many stand-out traits he possessed was his greeting with a firm handshake and a smile.

His funeral was a celebration of his memory, of a life well lived. His family, neighbours and friends turned out to pay their respects. They took time out of their busy lives to share their memories, their stories and be with us over those few days.

The support offered by people in rural communities is still phenomenal in Ireland.

Occasions like this get us thinking across a broad range of matters. We think about the progression of life on the farm and our future goals. Are they clear — do I really want to milk more cows? Do I want to take more time off, will the farm survive without me?

Is there a succession plan in place — is it well documented, have we put enough thought into it?

Is it fair to all family members, are we clear as to their expectations, are we comfortable discussing it with everyone involved?

In hindsight, my Mam and Dad had an easy decision in our family in that I was “the farmer”.

They also were able to let go of the reins before the official transfer of the farm.

This encouraged me and allowed me farm to my potential.

Over the last 30 years, I have focused on improving the farm, increasing scale, improving the profitability.

This was motivated by the need to provide an income for two families and now to ensure we have a viable farm for the next generation to join us.

The Ireland we live in today is very different from the one my Dad grew up in and yet so many things remain the same.

I wonder what the future holds for our family and can we have a positive influence on it?

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