Farm Ireland

Thursday 26 April 2018

Look back now to move forward positively

Robin Tobin

I woke up the other morning and, for a second, forgot about the meltdown in our economy over the past two-and-a-half years. The word NAMA rang about my head, but I thought maybe this was what a child might call a favourite grandparent. .

Nobody had heard of the IMF, ECB, bank bailout, ghost estates, transferred assets or toxic loans, while Celtic Tiger was still a respectable term

Then, suddenly, my Bobby Ewing moment slipped away and I realised that, economically, this country is in an awful mess. No doubt, too, that this will cast a shadow over our lives for many years to come, but this week heralds a new year, a new start, and here on the farm we will try to look ahead with a positive attitude.

In order to look forward you first have to look back. To know where you are going, you have to know where you've been. Of the mistakes we have made, of which there are plenty, the two most significant from last year would be opting not to grow spring barley (for the first time in living memory) and having too many cows in calf to Limousin bulls.

While I think Limousins are great cattle, unfortunately, on this farm, when it comes to selling the bulls live as weanlings, they are consistently back 50c/kilo at least from our Belgian Blue bulls. This equates to over €200/hd. On the positive side, the two most significant steps that we took were to start a major reseeding programme of old pastures and a total revamp of our almost non-existent paddock grazing system.

In hindsight, maybe we were totally focused on our breeding programme and took our eye off the ball as regards the quality and management of our pastures. This really came home to me last spring when we were visiting one another's farms in our discussion group and it was obvious that they had plenty of good-quality grass, while we had very little.

Apart from the new grasses, the plan this year is that each batch of 50 cows will have seven paddocks to graze.

From past experience, we are roughly half-way through the winter at this stage. Fodder supplies look to be sufficient to see us through to grass. Calves seem to be healthy and thriving well, with very little coughing, so far. We plan to treat the cows for fluke and worms in the coming weeks. We will do this by mixing the fluke and worm doses through the meal and then putting it in the feeder wagon with the silage.

Also Read

This is a system we have used for a few years and it seems to work. Anything is better than trying to dose a suckler cow.

We will shortly be taking the bulls away from the cows. One slight change we have made this year is that, whereas we would have always gone for a 10-week breeding period, we are now moving to 12 weeks. My reasoning for this is that it leaves enough time to rotate three bulls, rather than two, through each batch of cows. So this means that the first bull would be in for six weeks and the two subsequent bulls for three weeks each.

Top of my farming wish-list for the year ahead is that Irish beef prices would finally move into line with European prices, a quality price for a quality product.

While the QPS is a move in the right direction, it's just a start -- the base price has to rise significantly.

What I would also love to see (and recognising that the silly season has not yet abated) is the grass growing for nine months, all the cows having bull calves, and the property developers giving us back our money. Well, we all have our fantasies.

Happy New Year!

Robin Talbot farms in partnership with his wife Ann and mother Pam at Ballacolla, Co Laois

Indo Farming