Henry Walsh: We're banking on the new parlour to cut costs in 2019
I want to begin by wishing everyone a safe and healthy 2019. Thankfully, there was a 40pc reduction in fatal farm accidents in 2018 - and through education and awareness we can continue to maintain this progress.
This year, our local IFA branch is looking to get an initiative off the ground where we bring a number of four-member groups together from the branch for a day to openly discuss farm-safety issues on our farms. The initiative will include visiting the four farms involved to identify areas where we can improve on.
Safety must continue to be an absolute priority for all of us this year, but another area that is glossed over is farmers' health.
There is no doubt that 2018 tested every farmer's mental and physical well-being and it is an area we must also focus because no other sector is as exposed to the array of challenges we face. These include income, workload, weather, compliance and regulation. My farming wish for this year is simple, an ordinary year without extremes.
I am expecting 2019 to be another very eventful year full of change. January has started the trend with another new phrase 'Veganuary', to add to Brexit and climate change among others.
The ever-increasing standards expected of us are coming relentlessly, while at the same time, costs are rising - particularly feed and fertiliser - and some commodity prices are falling.
We are very much looking forward to milking in the new parlour this year, and it should give a huge boost to everyone on the farm as the workload will reduce dramatically.
The old eight-unit herringbone was built in 1976 and we extended to 16 units in 2002 when we made the move from winter milk to spring calving.
The new parlour was a big decision for us, but once it was agreed, we then focused on making it happen. We have incurred a massive financial cost so now we must strive to recoup it over its lifetime. I see a number of areas where we can achieve gains.
Milking time should be cut by over half which will dramatically reduce the labour demand.
Cows will spend less time on their feet in the collecting yard and I would expect them to be more relaxed, leading to an increase in milk solids per cow and per hectare.
The building has embraced a lot of modern technology such as heat recovery, while cooling the milk, vari-speed milk, vacuum and water pumps as well as drafting and heat detection.
We have built a water storage tank and this will reuse all the cooling water throughout the day to supply the paddocks, the yard and for washing the parlour.
These initiatives should help reduce our electricity usage and therefore our carbon footprint. (I see the Government are now expecting farmers who use over 25,000 litres a day to register their wells with the EPA as water 'abstractors').
We are building a cubicle shed for half the cows beside the parlour as we have struggled with on/off grazing during the spring and autumn at our stocking rate as the wintering pad was not suitable for milking cows.
One thing that is frustrating me at the moment is our renewable energy crop of willow.
We hope to harvest in the next month as it is three years since it was last cut.
This crop is growing on one of the best fields on one of the out farms. It is not generating an acceptable economic return and I am torn between the desire to have a renewable crop on the farm or returning the field to grass and optimising its benefit to the dairy herd.
There is a definite lack of follow-through in Government policy in these areas; too many false dawns. Government has the power to decide if it wants renewables by its actions.
For example, with the stroke of a pen, they could insist all public buildings install wood burners to heat them or solar on their roofs. If Government is serious about climate change, they must guide farmers - who are the custodians of the land - with realistic, viable initiatives, and then they must support them.
Henry and Patricia Walsh farm in Oranmore, Co Galway, along with their son, Enda, and neighbour and out-farm owner John Moran
Train the cows to the new parlour
Get ready for calving
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