This is the first year that the cows were housed in July -- and they ended up staying in for three weeks

Gerard Sherlock

Gerard Sherlock

Since I wrote here five weeks ago, I -- along with every other farmer in the country -- have experienced every weather imaginable: rain, cold, hailstones, wind and some sunshine.

We can all debate how bad this summer has been and compare it with 1985, 2007 or 2008.

For me, it is the first year that cows were housed in July. Milking cows went back in at night on July 6 and stayed in for three weeks.

I fed the 40 bales that were made in June, along with eight more that I was forced to borrow. Ground conditions and poor grass growth were the reasons.

Even though the bales were good, milk protein fell to 2.94pc. Meal was increased to 6kg/cow. Protein has recovered slightly to 3.15pc.

Last week, my discussion group's average protein was 3.11pc, which proves to me that I am not alone.

There was a major energy deficit in the cows' diet that I wasn't filling quick enough. The only small consolation is that I have the same milk volume at the end of July as I had at the start.

Presently cows are yielding 23 litres at 3.57pc fat and 3.15pc protein, giving 1.60kg MS/cow/day. TBC is 9,000 and SCC is 178,000. Pasture sward or urea is being spread. No topping has been done in the past month.

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Last week our discussion group calculated winter feed budgets. Based on my current stock and the first and second cuts in the pit, I have a feed deficit of 192t.

Teagasc are recommending an additional reserve of one month's feed, which would increase my deficit to 370t.

My options now are to extend the grazing as much as possible, reduce stock numbers such as culls, surplus heifers and take a third cut.

For me, it will be a combination of all three optionst.

A challenging year focuses us all. Our group facilitator went through cash-flow budgets, which I don't do as much as I should.

The key things to look out for are cash coming in that is dropping owing to milk having a lower base price, lower solids and lower yields.

Cash going out has to be met at all times, especially for the living expenses and the tax bill in November, which will be based on a more profitable milk year than this one.

During the last weekend of July, I got the second cut in. I was in dread of the ground being damaged, but luckily very little was done.

This was largely thanks to a co-operative contractor who put on an extra trailer to save filling trailers too much.

Before the pit was covered, the slurry contractor was in to empty a tank.

He worked on late as well to get the job done in the short fine spell of weather. Scanning was carried out last month.

About 60pc of cows are in calf and are due to calve by March 15. There were six cystic cows which needed treatment with Receptal and Estrumate.

There were also four cystic heifers. This was more annoying than anything, as it is a lot of hassle taking heifers in. My plan is to take the bull out from the cows by mid-August.

Calves are in two batches and are being dosed every three weeks and moved to fresh grass. They are also getting 1-2kg of a 20pc heifer grower nut.

I am leaving a calf mineral-lick with them, as some of the later-born calves have brown coats of hair. Eight carry-over cows have been dried off.

They received a double bolus as they will be calving before Christmas.

Last year, the few cows that did calve before Christmas had cleaning problems, which I thought was a result of getting very little minerals before calving.

The grant approval for a new milk tank came through, so I will probably plan for this job in the autumn. I intend to add two more units in the parlour at the same time. There will be no reseeding this year as it is getting late and ground conditions are so wet and cold.

Two weeks ago, I endured what every dairy farmer dreads happening -- the electric power going off when you are half way through milking.

My first dash was to the switch in case it was a simple on-off power cut. But not this time.

Once you hear the clatter of falling units, you know the dung isn't far away.

I have no generator, so the cows had to stay in the collecting yard and were not happy campers.

The power was off for three hours, so the cows had to return to the field not milked. I milked earlier in the evening to relieve them.

A generator maybe going on Santa's list to act as an insurance policy.

I haven't mentioned the lambs lately, but Buttons and Bow are thriving well and the weather seems not to bother them.

Gerard Sherlock is a dairy farmer from Tydavnet, Co Monaghan. E-mail:

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