John Fagan: The sweet smell of haylage is a balm after our awful winter

Clodagh Allen, Jennifer O Donovan and Saoirse O'Donovan from Newcestown at the annual Steam and vintage rally at Innishannon, Co Cork. Photo: Denis Boyle
John Fagan

John Fagan

'Don't cast a clout till May is out' is an old saying that my father often reminds me about each year when we're thinking about making silage or making decisions on how much silage we should make.

I suppose it goes with the territory. Being 88, he's pretty much seen it all in farming.

He remembers the war years and the hard winters of 1947, 1963 and 1985, the difficult years always leaving a lasting impression in the memory bank. He's lived through more recessions than economic booms. What goes up must come down he says, so as farmers I think we can never really lose the run of ourselves as the weather in Ireland is certainly a great leveller.

The grass growth over the last week has been exponential. Looking back at my last article I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't be closing off fields until June, but as I write this article, we are busy bringing in our first cut, albeit a small cut, of silage.

I also managed to take out a few paddocks that had gotten ahead of themselves and made over one hundred bales of beautiful, sweet smelling haylage.

It's a start. If you told me a month ago that this would be the case I would have probably thought you were being smug, let's be honest, I was in bad form.

The plan now is to close off all the cleaned up fields around the place and I'm going out with two bags of CAN aiming to make the mother of all silage cuts in early July.

This should see my silage pits happily refilled and I'm good to go for the winter. Not only that I will have good after grass coming on stream for my lambs' post weaning.

Get the latest news from the Farming Independent team 3 times a week.

Lambs are going well. I lost a few more than normal with clostridia issues (pulpy kidney and black leg) so I took the decision to vaccinate them all again. It's not something that I normally have to do as they should have been covered from their mothers' colostrum, but I think that this year has put a lot of pressure on their immune systems, leaving them that bit more vulnerable to disease and sickness. I also treated them against blow fly strike, so one less worry for the summer.


I booked the shearers, I hope to have them done by mid-June. I had thought about shearing in September and to be honest I'd rather just shear them as normal.

I found this year that I had a lot of cases of mastitis and also Schmallenberg raised its ugly head again. I am not sure, but I've heard a few older farmers say that not having a good cover of wool on them through the winter can lead to greater incidences of mastitis and the issue with Schmallenberg is that I believe that a sheep with a greater cover of wool on her is less likely to be bitten by the disease-causing midge.

After trying all sorts of different things, we often revert back to the simple straight forward practices that our forefathers did for years, and I now know there was method in their perceived madness.

A good winter dip in August/September could just do the trick and keep the flies and midges from bothering them and prevent Schmallenberg.

I'll take a faecal sample of the lambs and I aim to dose them on that basis, I'm also going to give them a cobalt bolus and roll on weaning in July. I'll clear out whatever lambs are fit prior to weaning and take it from there. I'll be looking forward to getting in a few quid and paying a few bills.

I took a break in mid-May and disappeared to Spain to watch Leinster in Bilbao and then I did part of the 'Camino del Norte' which is an amazing hike through rural Spain.

I would highly recommend it. It was a great chance to clear the head after the miserable winter that we just had and it was a reminder to me of a lot of the reasons I became a farmer.

Seeing small farms tipping along nice and handy is calming to the soul, I'm sure the Spanish farmer has their own worries but a least he or she has the weather and vino tinto.

John Fagan farms in Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

Indo Farming

For Stories Like This and More
Download the Free Farming Independent App