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Our forefathers were so right... old hay is like old gold

We have been selling 18-month-old beef heifers and bulls over the last couple of weeks and are pleasantly surprised by their performance.

The sales have started almost a month earlier than last year and carcase weights are about 20kg/hd heavier than the corresponding animals last year. Hopefully this trend continues.

We would be particularly pleased considering it was into January before we put them on their finishing diet. The first couple of months they were on excellent first-cut silage, home-grown barley and molasses.

A welcome add-on is the fact that the price per kilo is the highest it has ever been.

The increase in the quality assurance bonus is being well received and it's important that we respond by producing as many cattle within spec as we possibly can. But the good news ends there.

Like farmers all over the country, we are in a very serious situation regarding feed supplies. We are out of silage, despite monitoring it very closely and buying extra meal to halve the daily usage.

The only upside is that there was more grass than we would have liked left behind the animals at housing last autumn.

This, combined with the dry conditions, has kept the cows and calves out in small numbers quite happy.

They are, in turn, doing a job that needed to be done by cleaning out these pastures.

But if this weather continues, we will have no winter feed and no grass.

To date, we have spread no fertiliser. In my opinion, the ground temperatures here have been too low to get any response.

We will probably start spreading this month regardless of soil temperatures, on the basis that it is only a matter of time before temperatures start increasing. But the longer this goes on, the more precious every day becomes.

The snow is falling as I write, so it might seem strange to say, but we are definitely going to close up two fields for silage this week. After the performance of the beef cattle on last year's early first-cut silage, we are determined to aim for that again this year.

The older I get the more I realise how little I know and how wise the people who went before us were.

Referring to fodder carried over from one year to the next they would always have said 'old hay is old gold'.

It's something we always have to keep in mind. When groups visit us here I can hear myself telling them that we budget for a four-month winter, "but just to be on the safe side we always cover ourselves for four and a half months of winter feed". At this stage, we are already gone over five months. We will have to start planning to make more winter feed, even if it might be a long time before we have a winter as long as this one again.

Of course, there are others in a far worse position than ourselves.

It is all making for a very stressful situation for some people when both emotional and financial reserves are being stretched to the limit.

With this in mind, we need to watch out for our neighbours in these trying times. And, if you have a little bit of surplus feed, you might consider lending it to your neighbour. I'm sure they will be more than happy to replace it later on.

All our tillage land has been ploughed and I'm sure this frosty weather is doing the soil good, making it easier for tilling. We have our seed and manure parked in the yard but sowing is the farthest thing from my mind right now.

It's all a long way from this time last year, when we were out picking stones in our t-shirts and it was 23°C.

The only hope is that when the weather does pick up, things will change very quickly at this time of year.

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

Irish Independent