Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 March 2018

The best farming summer ever? - Dairy farmer on why not all farmers are making the most of it

The Moran family hosted the second leg of last week's IGA summer dairy tour sponsored by AIB on their farm at Skeaghvasteen, Gowran, Co Kilkenny
Henry Walsh

Henry Walsh

Has this been the best farming summer ever? To me it seems like I needed the cap and the sun lotion more than I can ever recall.

Ground conditions have been excellent all year and, apart from a shortage in early May, grass growth has matched or exceeded demand all summer.

We have been stocked at 3.7 cows/ha on the milking platform this year and to date we have fed 340kg of concentrate per cow and harvested 170 kg/dm of silage per cow from the milking platform. The cows are producing 20 litres at 4.65pc fat and 3.78pc protein or 1.7 kg/ms on 1.4kg of ration.

We cut three paddocks for bales on July 20 and I expect these are the last bales we will cut this year as the focus will soon turn to building covers for the autumn.

Demand on the farm is 62 kg/dm as we have 4.8ha out for reseeding that we expect to have sown by July 31.

This ground got two litres of Roundup per acre. It also got two tonnes of lime per acre and depending on weather will get slurry or 10/10/20. This time we are sowing 2 tetraploid varieties Abergain and Dunluce at a seeding rate of 15kg/ac.

We also commenced the lime programme last month, spreading the planned one tonne per acre across the farm.

So far we have spread 262 tonnes and we will continue this programme for the autumn.

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On the out farms, we will cut all surplus grass on August 15 which is our usual date to start building grass covers for winter grazing. Stock bulls were removed from the heifers last week and will be removed from the cows on July 31. We treated all the calves and in-calf heifers for worms with anivermectin injection or a pour-on.

Help was a bit scarce due to holidays so we put off weighing for a few weeks as all groups appear to be thriving and healthy.

The calves are on after grass - one mistake I continue to repeat is not cutting one of the silage fields ear marked for pit silage in the middle of May as bales to introduce after grass earlier.

Dairy tour

Last week I attended the IGA summer dairy tour on Cathal and Grainne Moran's farm in Kilkenny concentrating on leased land.

This was a very well organised day allowing dairy farmers the opportunity to see first hand how the Moran family are attaining their goals. They have embraced many of the skills required to grow a dairy business. Cathal's objective is to maintain a "simple, low-cost, grass-based system."

He took over a 57ha mixed enterprise farm with 16 milk cows in 1997. Today the Morans are milking 258 cows on 144ha, with just 57ha of owned land. The plan is to expand to 360 cows by 2019.

Cathal scores every paddock for lime, phosphate (P) and potassium (K). The lime status of the farm has lifted from a low 5.8 to a very satisfactory soil pH of 6.6 with 1,800 tonnes of lime spread over the past three years. In 2014 only 15pc of the farm was index 3 for P and K as well as having a pH greater than 6.

After a lot of work and expense, 94pc of the farm was at optimum pH but still only 40pc of the farm tested index 3 for fertility. This was a major point because for most of our farms this exercise would probably show a big percentage of the land at below optimum levels. While this continues, we cannot expect our farm to grow grass to its potential.

Cathal emphasised the importance of developing good working relationships with his landowners and farming the land to the same standard as his own. He also highlighted that we should put the same effort into attracting, retaining and rewarding farm staff.

The view of the farm from the elevated entry to the yard was simply breathtaking.

The furthest paddock was 2.3km away and some 300 feet below. They said you could see four counties from there.

I hope to experience a similar moment next Sunday from the top of the Hogan stand as Galway beat Tipp!

Cathal has spent heavily over the last four years and he has built a superb compact labour-friendly facility. This now has a 30 unit herringbone parlour, auto drafting, 350 topless cubicles and surplus slurry storage.

He also stressed the importance of matching repayments to lease lengths for any expenditure required on new blocks as this gave him the freedom to spend the money up front and not compromise cashflow.

All in all, this was an excellent day that sent me home with plenty of food for thought

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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