Farm Ireland

Wednesday 18 July 2018

Swans are graceful birds but they eat our much-needed grass

Oliver McDonnell

The weather is currently reasonable for the time of year and we are now taking full advantage of this to assess the tillage crops. Fortunately, these continue to look OK and do not appear to have suffered unduly from the recent sub-zero temperatures. Time is approaching when we must think about the spraying and fertiliser applications. However, land has taken such a battering this winter that it will take time to recover.

We'll look into sprays and the cost of these more closely this season in an effort to see if there is anywhere cost savings could be made. The outlook for tillage crops is not encouraging, so we must do what we can in any area possible. In the meantime, slurry spreading continues on both farms.

Housed cattle are looking good and are on target for the ship in March. As you know, this is a change from our normal practice, which in the past has been to rear beef to finishing and then transport them to the factory gate. Finishing beef is a high-cost and high-risk business. Too often we have presented high quality beef to the factory, only to be paid a price on the day that hardly covered costs. It is insulting and demoralising. We have been obliged to accept a situation in the beef finishing business because there is really no other choice.

There is far too much volatility in the market. It is all young stock we have fed over this winter and it has been easier than in previous years. Of course, some of this ease could be attributed to the fact that numbers are also halved.

The Friesian bulls, which came from the home farm, are performing very well and have turned into fine cattle. The lads have gradually been changing their breeding goals over the past few years and are now aiming for a stronger, more square-type bone structure in the dairy herd and a high milk yield potential -- their targets are being met in all areas. The bonus point is that they are also getting more longevity in the herd. Under the present system in this country, it is looking like there will be no future for Friesian bull beef but years of experience have proved with us that these cattle always pay for themselves and leave profit as well. Good feed management produces the results. With commercial numbers rapidly in decline, the day will come when factories might be glad of them.

On the home farm the lads have bought their urea in readiness for application when conditions allow. The approach of spring is definitely imminent when fertiliser arrives on the farm. Indeed, we have already seen a stretch of nearly an hour in the evenings. At the moment the lads are busy checking all the paddock fencing, which always seems to need some repairs. Replacing posts is one of the main jobs. I often wonder if it is me or do posts really not last as long as they used to? Water drinkers are also being checked and cleaned out to ensure that all is as it should be.

February 14 has been earmarked as the day when cows will be allowed outdoors for a few grazing hours, weather permitting. This is just two weeks away and gives us all a lift as we look forward to the day. Temporary electric fencing is being erected across those silage fields which are fit for grazing and this, hopefully, is where cows will graze for a few weeks.

Laurence is particularly busy at the moment with increased numbers of cows calving. His plan to increase cow numbers has necessitated extra grazing ground being brought into the rotation and this in turn means that some new roadways must be created along the paddocks. The plan was drawn up on paper some time ago but weather only now allows such fieldwork to be done. Owen is currently in with his digger doing this job but it all just adds to the workload at this moment in time.

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The annual invasion of swans here on the farm is beginning to present quite a considerable problem as they are eating all the early grass on several paddocks. Now I know that swans are beautiful and graceful creatures, but in large numbers there are other adjectives I could use. Effectively, we are without the use of a minimum of three paddocks until the middle of April. The swans occupy these until the end of March, by which time they are almost destroyed and then they have to be fertilised to encourage grass to grow for the cows, which takes another couple of weeks at least.

This occupation of swans started many years ago with one family but has now increased and multiplied into a three-figure total. And they make quite a racket as well, which can be heard across several fields.

Irish Independent