"I will target the live export trade as plants are leaving us short"

Oliver McDonnell

The past four weeks of sub-zero temperatures are only now being resolved with much milder weather, allowing a thaw to occur a little deeper in the ground every day. This problem was very evident in the beef unit slurry reception tanks. Whatever slurry was originally in these tanks had frozen solid, leaving a situation where only the top, fresh layer could be removed, and this had to be done on a daily basis to ensure enough storage from day to day.

Thankfully these past few days have brought an end to the problem as all the frozen slurry thawed and we were finally able to empty these tanks and spread the slurry on land targeted for tillage crops.

Whenever weather conditions allow we continue to spread slurry on stubble ground. Grazing or silage areas will not receive slurry until the end of the month. Hopefully then, all this slurry application will considerably reduce the requirements for chemical fertiliser on the spring crops in particular. We weren't in a position to spread slurry on the tillage ground as heavily as we had wished last year but, wherever slurry was adequately applied, there was a considerable saving on bought fertiliser without a cost to crop yield.

The weather broke last October before we finished our winter wheat sowing, leaving us with some seed on hand and some headlands not sown. A discussion with my adviser is now a priority as land conditions improve. The headlands of these tillage fields must be sown and we must discuss if I can still use the winter wheat seed on hand. We were in a similar position last February but it wasn't just headlands which needed to be sown. Instead it was a couple of fields, and then we successfully used the extra winter wheat seed which we had been unable to sow earlier because of almost non-stop rain.

The lads continue with a busy calving period and Laurence, in particular, is rushed off his feet as he struggles to cope with almost double his previous dairy cow numbers. Planned expansion always seems to be OK in the planning process and we always think we can manage by converting existing sheds or whatever. But often expansion catches us by surprise and leaves us bogged down in extra tasks while we work our way through the first year.

Laurence has been producing finished beef for many years and he was, and is, an excellent beef farmer, but years of low beef prices have been demoralising for all of us and the reward for labour is simply not there. So, having been born and reared with dairy cows, he decided that this was the way forward for him. His existing milking parlour needs upgrading to speed up milking but he did some work here last summer to cater for the extra numbers.

As for calving, the plan was to re-organise a couple of the former beef units to house some of the extra calves. This worked well enough but looking after the calves is time consuming, so all in all, he really hasn't a minute to call his own. However, he will have to look at the calf-rearing facilities and organise these so that the workload can be reduced over the summer. Building, be it in the form of re-construction, maintenance or otherwise, never ends.

Owen has now finished creating new farm roadways for Laurence and these have now been filled with gravel for the moment. The next job is to create some new paddocks. These will be extra to those already holdings the extra cow numbers and are a bit further away from the farmyard. This new grazing area is also where the early spring grazing will begin. The plan is to start the cows in the farthest paddock and they will work their way towards the yard. There will be no let up in Laurence's work over the coming year as he continues to re-organise his yard and buildings to cater for the extra dairy numbers.

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A batch of cull cows were recently sold from the home farm. These made the same price as those sold last year, even though they probably weighed twice as much. Most of the cows sold were big heavy cows, but the new grading system did them no favours, and by comparison with previous years probably left a loss of €200-300 on the heavier animals.

I know the IFA has done a lot of work in acquiring some changes to the cattle grid system but I would still be extremely reluctant to trust my animals to be slaughtered under it. The base price is too low, leaving the farmer too vulnerable, and my mind is still veering towards the live export trade for my animals. The way I see it, there is only one winner in this new QPS, which is, of course, the factory.

Irish Independent

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