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Mother Nature having last laugh

It appears that Mother Nature is having the last laugh this spring. First of all, we had a very mild winter which provided an abundance of early grass, then we had a dry spell which was a great bonus as it allowed all of this early grass to be fully utilised.

However, with the recent cold and wet spell, grass is now at a premium with little sign of any paddocks recovering in time to be ready for their second grazing.

I deferred the predicament somewhat by delaying the letting-out of the last of my cattle until April 12. However, I must confess that these animals are now struggling to get going with the current downturn in the weather.

On the other hand, the cattle that I got out in early March continue to do well.

But at the moment, looking at next week's paddocks, I'm in a position to empathise with Old Mother Hubbard when she found out that her cupboards were bare of goods.

The current shortage of grass may be having a limited affect on the cattle trade, but one thing that struck me when I returned to the ringside in spring was the number of Friesian-cross yearling bulls coming on the market.

Unfortunately, for the people who produced these bulls, they don't appear to be selling that well in comparison to Friesian-cross yearling bullocks, which, up to now, have been making record prices.

This recent proliferation of young bulls begs the question why, in spite of the fact there are more dairy cows than beef in Ireland, we don't appear to have a clear policy about beef sourced from the dairy herd?

The market keeps telling us that there is a consistently strong supermarket demand for O3 steer-type carcases.

This product could be sourced in a very cost-effective manner from the dairy herd and thereby finished economically off grass.

But what do we get? We get a huge focus on high-cost, meal-intensive methods of turning extreme dairy-breed young bulls into bull-beef, the market for which is becoming increasingly uncertain. My own interest in this subject is because most of my stores come from the dairy herd.

What I cannot understand is the apparent indifference to this valuable resource by Agriculture House. I find it surprising, to say the least, that there appears to be no recent research available comparing the returns from extreme dairy breeds producing high milk yields and low-value calf/stores with the more easily managed British Friesian herds, who produce perhaps less milk but certainly a more valuable calf/store offspring.

The growing need for research in this area is highlighted by the fact that current figures show that approx- imately 60pc of the dairy herd is being bred to dairy bulls.

We are told that this will lead to a dairy herd size of more than 1.35m cows by 2020, and a substantial rise in the number of male calves emerging from the dairy herd.

I know many people won't agree with me, but we have seen a swing away from slower-finishing continental breeds to easier-finishing Angus and Hereford breeds.

25pc of dairy cows are now bred to Angus and Hereford bulls, in comparison to 11pc bred to continental bulls. Getting back to my own farm, I have only two more cattle left to buy, so things now appear to be well under control.

Like everything else, the silage ground that I grazed early in spring is struggling to recover, so I may have to wait until early June to get it cut.

The problem is that this could very well delay the introduction of after-grass into my own grazing system.

I find that adding in an extra paddock of after-grass into my rotational grazing gives a great boost to the mid-summer grass supply.

I also find this time of the year is a good time to give a hand to the electric fence system; it usually involves replacing some posts as well as strainers and addressing briar and foliage growth.

We all know that there is nothing worse than finding broken stakes and earthed-out wire when the busy summer season gets into full swing.

John Heney is a beef farmer from Kilfeakle, Co Tipperary

Indo Farming