Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 March 2018

Electricity supply still a hot topic but weight gain figures are more worrying

John Heney

Even though it affects every part of our lives, a constant supply of electricity is something we take for granted. We also tend to forget what a huge amount of maintenance is required to ensure that every time we switch on an appliance, it will actually work.

A recent visit by ESB crews to my farm to carry out maintenance work and replace a pole really opened my eyes to the never ending job of ensuring our supply of electricity.

What I found really amazing was that when the lines were being attached to the new pole, this was done without actually turning off the electric current.

Of course, like the mains power lines which cross most of our farms, electric fence lines also need maintaining.

I find that this year, because of the serious growth of briars and other bushes, this job is proving quite difficult.

What made my job far more complicated was that I failed to notice that part of the wire fencing on top of the pond, which I had cleaned out two years ago, had sagged and was submerged in the water.

The fact that the fence still worked and continued to prevent cattle from mixing -- even though part of it was submerged in the water -- is testament to the quality of the fencing which is more than 30 years old.

I thought it very expensive at the time but, in hindsight, this fence has proven to be a very good investment indeed.

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The last few months have been a very busy time on my farm, selling the finished cattle and replacing them with stores.

I have mentioned it before, but I am very fortunate that I have two local marts where I can rely on a good supply of young cattle from which to source my stores.

One part of farming which never changes is the reality that there are always problems and losses. Just two weeks ago, I lost a fine 450kg store bullock that I had bought back in August.

I usually get it right and get them in in time, but this time I wasn't so lucky and what I thought was just a dirty nose turned out to be something far more serious.

My run of good kill-outs this year also came to a sudden end recently when I sent off a group of culls to be killed.

Suffice to say that I seldom have a year where I won't be disappointed at least once, and this was certainly the case with this load.

Luckily things appear to be back on track again as the returns from a load I sent off this week were back up again towards my average.

But any illusions that I may have had that I was running my farm fairly well were shattered during a visit to our national advisory service's stand at the recent Ploughing Championships.

My initial delight that buying store cattle in the autumn and finishing them on grass the following year was at last receiving recognition quickly evaporated, when I saw the returns that these experts said I should be getting.

According to their figures, a 350kg Friesian bought in the autumn should put on 250kg over an 11-month period without any meal being fed and should then kill-out at 51.5pc.

All I know is that in spite of the fact that I have used a paddock-based rotational grazing system for years and my silage is invariably cut in May, I can never achieve these sorts of results.

My records would suggest that a figure of 225kg would be much closer to what I can achieve, and even this figure does not allow for the occasional casualty or bad summer.

It's reasonable to presume that these figures are for average weight-gain and kill-out which can be achieved on a normal, well-run commercial farm.

If this is the case, it would appear that I'm certainly not the only one in trouble, as many farmers I speak to still have difficulty finishing Friesian cattle on grass and are obliged to use increasingly expensive meal to get them fit for slaughter.

If I am to judge from the figures produced at Ploughing, it appears that I will have to concentrate a lot more on increasing weight gains in future.

An additional 25g weight gain per head would amount to quite a sizeable figure at the end of the year.

It looks like it's back to the farming drawing board for me ... again.

John Heney farms at Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary. Contact him by email at:

Indo Farming