Farm Ireland

Monday 18 December 2017

Set out targets now and keep fingers crossed on weather


A cyclist takes a break along the flooded Lee Fields in Cork city on Monday.
A cyclist takes a break along the flooded Lee Fields in Cork city on Monday.

Mary Kinston

The new year is finally here, and I always wonder at this point what the year will bring in terms of weather. While grass may have grown well above expectation this winter, there is a concern about the farm being able to dry out in January after so much rain in December.

Most farmers are hoping that the weather will settle again over the next few weeks. This would allow the spring rotation plan to kick into gear and get cows out on grass in February. If the current deluge persists, grazing could be delayed until March in many parts of the country as paddocks are saturated.

Either way, the start of calving and the number to calve have been set in stone. We are now in the last stretch of the dry period, and anticipate the first calving and the start of the 2014 milk production season. It certainly won't be long until we are all back into it.

Quota will be at the forefront of many a producer's mind, especially where there is an abundance of in-calf heifers that haven't sold as easily as in previous years. But Mother Nature may yet have her say on the country's and each co-op's final position on March 31.


For a spring calving herd the fact that the dry period and Christmas coincide, means that it is a great time of year to rest, recuperate, enjoy all of the festivities and have some well-earned family time, without the daily cycle of having to leave every social event in the afternoon to go and milk the cows.

It also fits nicely with the short day lengths, meaning that there are still a few hours in the day where maintenance or new infrastructure projects can be done around feeding the cattle.

Alongside this, dosing cattle, managing cow condition score, and heifer live-weight gain all have to be given due attention. If we don't set the season up in terms of hitting calving condition scores and managing parasites, the bottom line is that we will suffer to a degree irrespective of how the year pans out in terms of weather.

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However, after receiving a book titled Would You Marry A Farmer? by Lorna Sixsmith for Christmas, I certainly have a different take on how a novice to farming may perceive all of the words we use such as dosing and body condition score.

While it's fair to say that many a farmer may have had an increase in their own body condition this Christmas, it wouldn't have been a farmer's first thought when considering the term. I also had to laugh as she described the presents a farmer may give his wife.

This included a nip in to the local jewellers on the way into the mart or to have the infrequent haircut, or the bunch of daffodils picked from around the farm if they have flowered in time for St Valentine's Day or Mother's Day. And how not to get overly excited.

While every farmer's wife will appreciate the thought, you do have to laugh having experienced this. As I say to every farmer in my discussion groups, especially as we head into the one of the busiest times of the farming calendar: "Don't forget to show that you value and appreciate your wife." Even a "thank you" goes a long way!

The reality is that when you are busy working the long days in the cold and the wet, it's your wife, partner or mother that works behind the scene to keep you functioning or is also out there, mucking in to ease the workload.

Again, thinking ahead to the 2014 milking season, prior to any cow calving is a great time to set a few targets of what you hope to achieve this year. In industry, these are referred to as KPI or key performance indicators.


Quantifying how quickly the cows calve in terms of the number of days until 50pc of the herd have calved and the percentage calved at six weeks are examples of important KPIs. These figures give you an indication of whether mating is set up to go well or whether you need to work harder at it.

For example, if calving is slower than desired then certain solutions must be considered. These could include involve putting greater emphasis on getting maiden heifers ripe for bulling in terms of size, or maybe using management techniques to encourage cows to submit and conceive -- such as once-a-day milking for at risk cows.

Ideally what you are targeting are calving rates of 50pc of the herd in fewer than 21 days and more than 75pc of the herd calved in six weeks. While achieving these targets means a busier calving season and more pressure on feed, what it does is set the herd up to maximise the number of days in milk at grass, which has a substantial bearing on the bottom line.

Days in milk is also another KPI worth focusing on and ideally should be greater than 280 days for the whole herd. Unfortunately, limited quotas may have crippled this figure in recent times but 2014 is the last season before this can be fully exploited.

Finally, assessing maiden heifer live-weights from now until March may give you enough time to review your management practices and achieve a compact calving in 2015.

Mary Kinston is a discussion group facilitator and consultant, and farms with her husband in Co Kerry. She can be contacted at

Irish Independent