Farm Ireland

Saturday 16 December 2017

Nature will always have the final say regardless of our best laid plans

Two donkeys in sprightly mood in Clonberne, Co Galway last week. Photo: Andrew Downes, XPOSURE
Two donkeys in sprightly mood in Clonberne, Co Galway last week. Photo: Andrew Downes, XPOSURE

John Heney

Our Irish weather has turned out to be a real Jekyll and Hyde affair this spring.

It's as if we needed reminding that no matter what plans we make, nature will always have the final say. The good news is that it now appears to be getting back to some semblance of normality.

The arrival of spring always reminds me of how deeply privileged we as farmers are to work hand in hand with the natural world.

It really does bring a special reality and understanding of nature to our everyday lives, something which our city cousins never seem to fully appreciate.

I must confess that I occasionally become quite impatient and annoyed with two diverse groups of non-farming people who appear to be totally unaware of this special empathy and understanding farmers have with nature.

On one hand we have the somewhat greedy business, scientific and technology experts who would wish to totally dominate the natural world for seemingly selfish monetary gain.

At the other extreme we have the self-styled environmental radicals who continually preach down to us from their quasi political ivory towers.

Getting back to the everyday reality of farming, I had to wait much longer than I had expected for some fine weather to allow me clean up after February's remedial work on the grove and hedges.

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Unfortunately, the first of these days clashed with the racing from Cheltenham, so I wasn't that disappointed when it rained on St Patrick's Day as it afforded me the opportunity to enjoy the racing - including of course a great Irish win in the Gold Cup.

As the rain didn't arrive until that afternoon I was also able to use the few dry hours on St Patrick's morning to finish levelling off the tractor ruts around the shed, caused when getting the slurry out in February. As things transpired it was well worth the small amount of damage caused by the slurry tanker as the response from the slurry has been really good.

The few fine days preceding St Patrick's Day also allowed me - and I'd imagine many others - to let off some cattle and while I didn't let that many out, it certainly did make a big difference to my silage supply.

After a week of heavy rain followed by sleet and snow I had little option but to put these cattle back into the shed; luckily a quick improvement in the weather saw them going back out the next day.

I'm afraid, as usual, these Friesian cattle looked pretty miserable leaving the shed, but they have since shown a remarkable improvement in spite of the weather.

I never cease to be amazed at what nature and grass can achieve.

I continue to find that 'storing' cattle on silage over the winter and finishing them on grass during the summer months works well for me, especially if we don't get too many dry spells during the summer.

The recent very wet weather did take its toll with some ground literally turning into a muddy mess. However, it will recover and, as the saying goes, I have little choice but to get over it.

The changeable and cold weather also meant that growth continues to be slow in the fields I grazed into late autumn.

However, with the arrival of April and the longer evenings, every day now makes a huge difference.

Temporarily curtailing my stocking rate by delaying the letting-out the rest of my cattle should sort out any grass supply problems I have - that is as long as my limited supply of silage doesn't run out.

Continuing negative reports on the future of the beef sector suggest that some things never change.

I have always found cattle farming to be a bit of a balancing act with the bottom line always being about curtailing expenses as much as possible.

It struck me recently that we should be very grateful to the many people, especially our politicians, who for decades have been trying their very best to cheer us up in the beef sector.

As well as seemingly never-ending announcements of new, but unfortunately mostly "phantom" beef markets, they also promoted many exciting and glamorous awards and prizes for our more progressive, but perhaps sometimes slightly gullible, beef producers.

I feel that we should also express our indebtedness to the many people, paid and unpaid, involved in our various farming organisations who give so much of their time helping and advising beef farmers.

Unfortunately, and in spite of all their dedication and hard work, annual income figures in the sector would suggest that their endeavours for the most part have been totally futile and utterly in vain.

I find it inspiring, however, that in spite of the deep frustration these people must surely experience, they stoically insist on continuing with their endeavours.

John Heney farms at Kilfeakle, Co Tipperary.

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