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Farmers view: Calving has gone well but grazing is a challenge


Connacht head coach Pat Lam

Connacht head coach Pat Lam

Connacht head coach Pat Lam

Last month, I remarked on how good the winter had been, but of course I should have known better and in classic Irish weather fashion the winter only began in mid-February.

The only ones smiling in the rain recently were the Connacht rugby team as they continued their great run of form after so many injuries when securing a bonus point victory against Zebre in blustery weather conditions with sheets of rain falling.

My son Enda had a basketball game in Oranmore last weekend and to great excitement Pat Lam along with his wife Stephanie and family turned up to support the team.

Pat has been a true success story here in the west, not only due to the phenomenal success with Connacht but also the way he has integrated into the community.

He is very highly regarded for his positive talks and his ability to encourage people to be the best they can be.

There are definite comparisons to be made between the efforts and progress made by Connacht under Pat Lam and team Dairy Ireland over the last number of years.

With the targets set for us in the 2020 report, we will continue to need clear guidance and strong leadership.

With the recent weather it is difficult to accept that the rain combined with our mild climate is Ireland's greatest asset when it comes to growing lots of grass.

This allows us to feed our dairy cows with a low-cost feed throughout the milking season. Current grazing conditions are extremely difficult with constant rain and very little drying.

We had 64pc of the herd calved in the first three weeks, and at the end of four weeks 90pc of the heifers were calved -- all the rest were springing apart from one. Calving has gone well with no milk fever to date and our target of 100 replacement heifer calves achieved 28 days into calving.

All this has resulted in cow numbers out grazing increasing rapidly during February, with the herd out to grass full time as they calve.

Farm cover on March 6 was 896kg/dm/ha. The cows were being fed 3kg which we increased to 4kg during the very wet weather and they also had access to silage to assist with gut fill as dry matters are consistently low this year. This leaves the cow more content in wet weather.

Maize and barley

We have now reduced the meal back to 3kg of a 14pc ration high in maize and barley. I believe it is much more important to mind the cow rather than the bulk tank at present because the year is long for milk production but short in terms of having the cow fit so that she will go back in calf. We are marking the ground more than I would like.

However, we will persevere as nothing can replace grazed grass in the diet at this time of the year, and it has been my experience that land with good soil fertility will repair itself and recover to normal after one or two grazings.

We will spread 30 units of urea per acre across the milking platform this week and a third application by April 1 to ensure we hit our target of 70 units.

Calf rearing has gone well to date, with a good effort being made to get three litres of fresh colostrum into every calf shortly after birth.

The one area I am considering is night supervision of calving as the few problems we had this year were at night.

From listening to people there are added advantages in that not alone is there someone present if there is assistance required, the calf is guaranteed colostrum and the mayhem of gathering calves and matching dams in the morning is removed.

I am expecting some beef calves now for a few weeks as we switched to easy-calving Angus and Hereford AI straws. I will continue to do this for the next few years as we are generating too many replacements and with a beef calf they will be sold quickly at a good price and this removes rearing costs as well as work load.

We had a very good farm walk during the week on Gerard, Pat and Norma Cormican's farm.

Ger is a member of our discussion group and a new entrant to dairying.

This was a superb suckler to beef farm and the decision was made to convert. Gerard completed his degree in agriculture in UCD three years ago.

He has been very active in the intervening years milking for Seamus Quigley, joining the discussion group and purchasing heifer calves two years ago.

While rearing them and educating himself on the targets he was also active planning and designing his milking parlour and farm layout, as well as reseeding the pastures and growing kale. Our walk showed us a family with a single minded focus towards dairying and a cohesive plan on how to get there.

Our discussion group is going from strength to strength and we have young people like Gerard; new entrants with technical knowledge to drive us on.

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

Indo Farming