Farm Ireland

Monday 18 December 2017

Spreading heavy workload crucial in era of expansion


Gerard Sherlock

Gerard Sherlock

As we head for the longest day of the year, we are still eagerly awaiting the hot summer we were all told about. One wonders where we got the two scorching days at the start of June.

First-cut silage has been made. I mowed down on June 2 and picked up two days later. This was a little bit later than I had hoped but the weather determined that. Grass crops were heavy, with some material lying on the ground.

This seems to have been common enough this year. Sugar levels ranged from 3.5-4.5 over four samples. Nitrogen levels in mg/l measured 25, 50, 100, 250. The sample with 250 was from two paddocks I had taken out of the rotation. I was happy enough as they got a good wilt and they weren't too heavy. Twenty-four hours after mowing, the swath was turned over. Grass going into the pit was very dry. I expect it should come out in the high 20s DM.

Slurry went out on all silage ground at around 3500ga/ac. The rain came as well so it got washed in quickly. No fertiliser has been spread yet. It will probably get 65-70 units N. I usually wait until some grass appears as it is easier to see the tracks for sowing.

My own cows are milking steady at the moment. Yield is at 27.2l, 3.57pc fat and 3.31pc protein giving 1.9kg MS. Grazing is going well on a 21-day rotation. One paddock was taken out for silage. No topping has been done yet but I can see starting shortly. I use a disc mower for topping which cleans out the paddock well. A Holstein Friesian bull is with the cows now from June 1. Calves and maiden heifers were dosed with Albex and Levacide Diamond (left over from winter) on May 31. All cows will be scanned next week to check progress.

I had a farm visit from a group from the local convent secondary school two weeks ago. They were studying ag science. I was very impressed with their love and interest of farming. I was told that many schools are now offering ag science due to its demand by students. But one comment they made was that the syllabus was outdated and it had no mention of grass measuring and other such terms.

Last month in our discussion group we discussed labour on our farms. Thanks to our Teagasc facilitator Trevor Dunwoody, we completed some very worthwhile exercises. After dividing into two groups we were asked why were we discussing labour.


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The main answer coming back was expansion. Other answers were balancing social life with farmwork, getting "older", time management, and farm set-up/layout. The next question we had to answer was -- what is your job?

There was only one answer here -- dairy farmer. The third question got many answers as it asked: what do you do day to day? Twenty-two answers were given and every dairy farmer knows them. Everything from milking cows, operating machinery and keeping records, to sleeping. Then we rated each task into priority groups.

Milking cows got No1 as it has to be done each day and so on. When we looked closer at the 22 jobs we saw that 21 of these jobs could be delegated to somebody else. The only one that couldn't was sleep! We discussed the symptoms of poor time management -- no time for anything, tiredness, frustration, depression, spending too much time at certain jobs, family life suffering, untidiness, poor routine and long days.

We did come up with three items for better time management: time planning using a 'to do' list and prioritising work; time saving, meaning doing doing profitable jobs which requires a good farm layout and remembering the phrase, "do once/do right"; and the third item was work shedding, either by delegating work or using a contractor.

The last exercise involved answering yes or no to 12 questions. Examples were: do you milk your cows 13 times a week from August? Do you get a contractor to spread your fertiliser? Nobody had more than five answered yes. This showed us that we all can reduce the workload on our farms if we really want to. As expansion is the buzzword in dairying at the minute, we are all going to have to look carefully at its implications. Will expansion bring me a better lifestyle? Or is it because Paddy up the road is going from 70 cows to 150 cows?

We must be certain that expansion will leave a profit.

Now that the big job of silage is out of the way I should plan my time better to include some recreational activities. High on my list of priorities will be some stock-judging evenings organised by the local Holstein-Friesian club and a few local shows, which I think are great to meet people and to enjoy a day away from the farm.

It is up to us dairy farmers to make better use of our time. As I heard once, "we're not here for a long time, we're here for a good time".

Gerard Sherlock is a dairy farmer from Tydavnet, Co Monaghan

Indo Farming