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Wednesday 12 December 2018

Peter Hynes: Dairy farmers levy could fund a sexing machine

Peter and Paula Hynes on the family farm in Aherla, Co Cork. Photo: Claire Keogh
Peter and Paula Hynes on the family farm in Aherla, Co Cork. Photo: Claire Keogh
File photo

Peter Hynes

It's that time of year again - all stock are housed and thankfully it arrived six weeks later than last year so October and November have been a little more relaxed, allowing us more time off farm.

We had a fantastic time away at the Farmer of the Year Awards, closely followed by a weekend away for some much-needed rest and a chance to sit down and watch Irish rugby at it's very best.

The mundane feeding regime has begun, along with the joyful job of liming cubicles. Unfortunately, Paula is out of action as she's just had an operation repairing her cruciate ligament, the consequences of a slight accident during calving 2018.

Being down a full-time labour unit certainly puts the system under more pressure, so adjustments have been made. We are milking once a day and trying to simplify all the small jobs. Dry cow minerals have started and we are using the Terra liquid system this year - it's one less job for me to do now. With 77pc of the herd due to calve in February 2019, it means shut down isn't far away now, which will free up more time so we can relax over Christmas and rest the body before the 2019 calving storm.

I attended the Clonakilty Agricultural College annual prize giving on Friday night with Becky. It's good to see so many students pass through the system and also see the hard-working students be rewarded for some extra effort.

Yet again, we saw another woman in agriculture shine through with Denise Twomey winning the Grassland Management Student of the Year. Having met Denise a few weeks previous, she had a fantastic understanding of how the whole grass system works. She certainly seems to have a very bright future in the agri industry. Every corner of the media has literally had beef on the menu the last few months. Unfortunately, beef farmers are under huge pressure - factory prices are low, national kill is high and there are the increased costs due poor weather in 2018. It's an issue that's been here before, just look back at 2014.

I know myself, we found it hard to get cattle into the factory that spring as prices were down. I spoke directly with an IFA cattle chairman at the time who made it quite clear they wouldn't protest at factories and we had to listen to many ideas and arguments before finally, in October 2014, they made a stand and blockades were organised. That was the last year we had beef cattle.

The Beef Action Group is something I am watching closely. They are close on 6,000 members with a target membership of 40,000. A big part of me feels every dairy farmer in Ireland should sign up and get behind them - it's in all our interest to see them succeed. The beef industry is a huge part of Irish Agriculture and, likewise, dairy farmers want a good price for calves.

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Strength in numbers I say, but I have a niggling worry - I've been hearing rumours that the same old finger is being pointed, blaming the dairy industry for issues in the beef industry and that argument is getting tired now. Time will tell. I'll certainly be eager to see when this new Beef Plan Group hits the big dairy counties.

We certainly do all have a responsibility in tackling this issue. If you look back over 30 years, dairy cow numbers are more or less the same. We in the dairy industry have gained efficiency, which has increased output and I think we have plenty more room to increase efficiency, thus milk production will continue to rise.

Suckler cow numbers, on the other hand, have increased dramatically in that time and I'm in total agreement that the national suckler herd needs to be halved.

There are some super operators out there running highly efficient suckler systems, but there is also the inefficient system which, at the very least, could be replaced by an alternative beef system.

Before every beef farmer turns the page in temper, just remember I did say we all need to take responsibility and here is where the dairy farmer comes into play.

We've used sexed semen on the farm here for a number of years, quite successfully I might add. Unfortunately, I cannot access the very top genetics in the form of sexed semen.

Ultimately, my job is to produce milk so I am not willing to compromise on genetics - we only use the top genotyped bulls every year and this is showing in results for us.

Maybe it's about time all dairy farmers contributed in the form of a very small levy which would fund a sexing machine being purchased by the ICBF, which all Irish AI companies would have access too. Indeed, we face lots of issues from many angles as regards the dairy bull calf and we need to face this head-on by changing what we do from a breeding perspective.

I'll leave you with that thought.

I certainly know that given the top genetics in the form of sexed semen, I would change my system tomorrow morning and end up supplying a lot more Hereford and Angus calves into the beef industry.

Peter Hynes is a dairy farmer in Aherla, Co Cork and winner of the Zurich/Farming Independent 2017 Farmer of the Year award

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