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Thursday 15 November 2018

'It's a calving season we won't forget for a very long time'

Track record: Henry Walsh has gone from milking 50 cows with 230,000 litre of quota in 1996 to 250 cows and 1.2m litres.
Track record: Henry Walsh has gone from milking 50 cows with 230,000 litre of quota in 1996 to 250 cows and 1.2m litres.
Rough seas at the height of Storm Emma
Henry Walsh

Henry Walsh

Not for the first time the worst of the winter weather has arrived during the spring. Storm Emma teamed up with 'The Beast from the East' to give us all a flavour of Siberian conditions.

We are just 3kms from the Atlantic, but we were still affected by snow drifts with most of it falling in a three hour period after daybreak.

While the general covering was maybe five or six inches many of the walls had snow banked four and five feet high.

Our road is densely populated with houses and almost every one had its own giant snowman in the front garden as parents along with school children enjoyed the days off, building the snowmen with the beautiful powder dry snow.

As an experiment I filled a bucket with snow from one drift and when it finally melted four days later it resulted in 4.5 inches of snow equating to one inch of rain.

Spring 2013 is still painfully fresh in farmers memories but the way 2018 is going at present we will do well to avoid a repeat. For many at this stage the stack of bales is gone and the back wall of the silage pit is visible.

Farming was extremely challenging throughout the storm which arrived when calving was in full flow.

We survived reasonably well in that John kept the parlour milking and water flowing in the yard tanks.

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An even bigger challenge was in the calf houses with 62pc of the herd calved in the first three weeks and no calves moving due to the weather.

Our yard is designed to protect us from the west but the snow driven by the storm floated and drifted into every shed.

There was no hiding place and then a few days later, no doubt aided by the cold, the rotavirus returned.

Enda and Trish worked hard rehydrating, feeding and bedding calves. While no calf was lost, the workload and costs were high.

We tested a number of samples and the only positive was rotavirus which showed up every time. Next year we will put the vaccination programme in place.

We are now six weeks calving and have 84pc of the herd calved, falling short of our 90pc target.

Grass is under real pressure as growth remains on the floor.

We had 75pc of the farm grazed on March 22, slightly ahead of target on the Spring Rotation Planner.

Now, however, because of the poor recovery we will try to stretch the first until April 10.

There is less than 400kg/DM back on the first paddock and covers are around 1000kg/DM/ha on paddocks not yet grazed. Enda applied a full bag of Urea on March 10, so if we get any mildness the energy is in the soil.

Currently we are feeding the cows 5kg of ration, 5kg/DM of pit silage and 5kgs of grass. Going forward I am considering increasing meal to an unprecedented 6kg/day.

Ultimately, looking after the cow is number one so it is critical that for the next few weeks we supplement whatever feed is required until the grass starts growing.

The herd is currently producing 21 litres at 4.77pc fat and 3.40pc protein. We will body condition score (BCS) the cows next week and put more on OAD to support them as I feel some are losing body condition.

Every spring we take students from two of the Galway city secondary schools (Salerno & St Mary's) as part of their Ag Science classes for the Leaving Cert.

Excitement

Last week we had a new experience when we took a class from a city national school, Scoil Naisiunta Iognaid. This time the average age was 8 and it was a very different experience.

When the initial excitement of seeing all the calves being fed and dancing around on the straw had subsided, we then followed the journey of milk from the cow to the bulk tank to the creamery.

They were very well informed, due in no small measure to their teachers Sarah and Mary.

One of the buzzwords being pasteurisation. I was pleasantly surprised at the way their faces lit up as they listed all the products that come from milk starting with milk in their cereals to cheese strings to yoghurt with the real highlight of course being ice cream.

Milk has and continues to be a very central part of children's diets.

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

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