Farm Ireland

Monday 21 May 2018

Make the most of early grazing

It has been an excellent grazing season.
It has been an excellent grazing season.

John Heney

As memories of the recent terrible storms begin to fade, I must say that I have seldom been so happy to see the arrival of spring. As usual, my letting-out dates were delayed because of late autumn grazing. However, at the moment I am finding grass growth quite satisfactory with the first lot of my cattle having gone out to grass on March 31.

The spell of good weather we enjoyed in March also helped to dry out land and greatly facilitated tidying up the chaos caused by February's storm. With the start of the growing season, it's now my real farming year begins.

For me, farming is very simple. I turn grass into beef as efficiently and cheaply as possible using Friesian cattle; I then sell this beef, and along with my EU payments it generates my income for the year.

Last spring's 'no-show' and the resultant poor factory kill-out figures really highlighted how important a good-start is to the grazing season, especially when, like me, you aim to finish cattle on grass alone. So I really appreciate this year's relatively normal spring, in spite of the on/off poor ground conditions and recent cold nights.


Mindful of all of the problems we experienced last spring, I have delayed letting out the remainder of my cattle. Luckily, I still have some silage left-over, which has allowed me to do this.

Updates on the new Basic Payment Scheme would appear to suggest that for most cattle farmers, our already uncertain future has just become even more precarious as we face further cuts in our payments, having already seen them drop by 10pc since they were first introduced. So what can we do?

Perhaps it would be useful at this stage to stand back and have a good look at where we currently are.

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Firstly, we should acknowledge the great help which the single farm payment has been to our sector over recent years and also for the fact that, even though these payments are being cut, they haven't disappeared altogether.

Even more important, however, is the availability (or lack) of viable markets for our stock, and how to cope with continually rising costs.

As a sector, it appears we're not great at heeding warnings. Its a few years since the factories warned us that they did not want bull beef over 16 months of age and now look at what's happening.

It's a long time since I realised that in order to survive I had to be absolutely ruthless in controlling input costs.

The bottom line is that if there isn't an obvious return from the money which I invest in my farm I tend to forget about it. Luckily, as a result, I have always been able to hold onto my single payments while still adding-value to Friesian- type cattle which are basically a low-cost by-product of our dairy sector.

Unfortunately, feeding dairy-type cattle still continues to be treated as the Cinderella of Irish farming by many of our bureaucrats, even though it makes up about half of our annual beef kill.

  • John Heney is a beef farmer from Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary. Email:

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