Farm Ireland

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Fodder woes averted as Mother Nature appears to have repaired herself

Gerard Sherlock

Gerard Sherlock

As we head for mid-September we all are enjoying this extended pleasant weather. Every good day after September 1 is a bonus, and the cows are content with plenty of grass and the sun on their backs. Milk yields are in natural decline however.

At the moment the cows are producing 19.6l at 3.87pc butter fat and 3.3pc protein, resulting in 1.44kg milk solids/cow/day. The SCC is at 226,000 and TBC 8,000.

Farm cover is 810 at a stocking rate of 3.16LU/ha. Cows are being fed 2kg of a high UFL 16pc protein nut. Cows are going into high grass covers (1,800kg/ha) but they are grazing the paddocks out well as conditions are good.

I brought in an extra 15ac of after-grass into the milking platform. This is a half mile on the road journey for the cows during the day only. If the weather gets wet I will have to take some of it out for bales.

The road journey isn't too bad but it does slow things up as cows have to wait a while before getting back to the field and family help is needed as well – and not forgetting the strings along the neighbours' entrances.

The IHFA classifier visited last week. Out of the 13 heifers inspected, seven were GP and six were G, with an average of 80 points. Thirty-four cows were inspected, with 1 EX, 23 VG, 8GP, 1G and 1F. I was pleased, especially with the heifers as they were a very even bunch.


Fertiliser was sown last on August 26. I still have a 500kg bag of pasture sward left. If it is to be sowed I will do it this week. Grass grew so good in the last three weeks even on a couple of paddocks that got no fertiliser after grazing.

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During the last week of August I got the sprayer out and sprayed for docks, buttercup and chickweed. I used Doxstar and High Load Mircam.

The weather was just perfect for spraying – calm, warm and not too sunny. I was very pleased with the kill I got. This was the first spraying I'd done this year.

The High Load Mircam was a new product for me, but it seems to have worked well on the buttercups. Spraying was also done on nettles here and there.

The hedge-trimmer contractor came in for two days and trimmed around a lot of fields.

Hedges have gotten very overgrown as very little trimming was done in the last two years. Farms appear a lot better when hedges are well maintained.

This was one big advantage of REPS in that you had to stick to a hedge maintenance plan.

Sixty-six large bales of straw (8x4x4) have been purchased at approximately €50/bale. Straw seems to be of excellent quality this year.

Round bales are still being made from third-cut silage. I hope to have these done this week or next week. The weather is important now to get them as dry as possible as a wet third-cut bale can sour very quickly.

There should be no winter fodder issues this year. Nature will always repair herself and provide for herself.

At our last discussion group meeting we analysed the results of a labour survey we all had completed earlier in the year.

As milk quotas are on the way out and more cows are on the way in, I am faced with working harder and longer hours.

The survey looked at the key areas of the farm such as milking, calf rearing, calving, contracting, breeding, grassland, winter, animal health, repairs, development and office.

My results were compared with my group average and with the top 10pc (32 farms) in the country who have done the survey.

Some of my key points were:

* I work 57 hours per week compared with 56 for the top 10pc;

* My average finish time is 6.52pm compared with 5.54pm for the top 10pc;

* The number of livestock units (cows) per labour unit for me is 50 compared with 91 for the top 10pc. The target is 100LU per labour unit on efficient dairy farms.

* Milk output per labour unit, or the milk solids, was 22,746kg compared with 33,946kg for the top 10pc.

I fared well in the milking, although I am losing some time washing out the parlour with my pressure washer. So I have to look at a better washing system. I need to put up proper written instructions in the parlour on milk tank operation and the milking operating instructions.

The survey also recommended that I should have three people on my phone that can confidently milk the cows at short notice.

The number of animal groups is also time consuming. The more groups, the more time is needed each day to check them. This ties in with the number of out-farms as well.

It was an interesting exercise. The challenge now is to act on the recommendations and to make the hours spent on the farm more productive.

Gerard Sherlock is a dairy farmer from Tydavnet, Co Monaghan. E-mail:

Irish Independent