As I feed my cattle these mornings and look out over the unseasonally green countryside, I find it incredible to think that this time last year we were just emerging from a long period of very severe frost.
At the moment, people are actually concerned about cattle sheds getting too warm and the ensuing health problems. In my own case, I am lucky that my shed is quite open and well ventilated, which is a great advantage when it comes to turning cattle out in spring as they are far better able to cope with cold March nights.
Christmas passed off very well on my farm this year. I really do enjoy feeding cattle on Christmas morning. In fact, I find it to be one of the most rewarding mornings of the year. Perhaps it's the link between animals and the stable in Bethlehem that gives me that feel-good factor.
Anyway, back to the reality of farming. My cattle seem quite content with the mild weather and appear to be doing well at the moment on second-cut silage. A few years ago, I made the mistake of over-wilting my second cut, which resulted in the pit becoming too springy and impossible to roll properly. This caused a musty layer to develop on the silage and I was probably lucky to have lost only one bullock as a result.
I will be starting to feed first-cut silage next week and hopefully it will turn out to be as good as my second cut. At this stage of the winter I, like most people, have a good idea of how long the silage supply will last. Thankfully, it appears that I should have plenty to see me safely through to the spring.
On the casualty front, I have only had to take one bullock out of the shed so far. He was suffering from a bruised shoulder and he has joined another bullock, which I didn't house because of him being a bit 'feely' on his front feet. I also have two bullocks left over from last year and I decided to leave these out as well. They are all happily grazing on a well-sheltered piece of land I closed last September to provide for such an eventuality.
Another thing which is noticeable as we move into the second half of the month is the slight lengthening of the evenings. These extra few minutes of light, which I have often heard described as a 'cock's step', are most welcome. They provide an opportunity for more outdoor work to be undertaken and the additional few minutes of nice, bright, afternoon light really do help to lift one's spirits.
On a more general note, just as I was becoming immune to the depressing 'if' and 'but' economic scenarios which are being continually promoted by our current legion of economists, I happened to tune into a recent edition of RTE's Eco Eye.
I found it very interesting to listen to a non-farming voice such as Duncan Stewart highlight the overwhelming dependency of modern farming on oil. When you combine this with the reality of a rapidly decreasing global oil supply as set out by former oil company geologist Colin Campbell on the same show, it really does raise a very worrying question relating to the future of our industry.
All of us involved in the industry know only too well how the continued increase in the price of oil has driven farm inputs such as fertiliser, machinery costs and feed through the roof over the past few years. However, with the apparent wisdom of an ostrich with it's head set firmly in the sand, those charged with advising us, for reasons best known to themselves, continue to encourage us to adopt more and more expensive production systems.
One example that springs to mind is the push to produce younger beef through the ad-lib feeding of expensive concentrates; in spite of the fact that research has shown that bought-in feed is one of the major costs on cattle farms.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the name of the game as we get into the new year is all about meeting optimistic production targets.
Never mind the damage that may be done to our coveted green image, or that we may end up broke as a result. Does anybody care?
John Heney is a beef farmer from Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary