Farm Ireland

Monday 19 March 2018

Traditional spring weather a boost in difficult times

The cattle that have gone out early have done very well - John Heney
The cattle that have gone out early have done very well - John Heney

John Heney

Whatever about the ongoing debate relating to climate change, it was great to get a traditional Irish spring this year with the April showers arriving right on cue. No matter what they say about the 'May flowers', these showers gave a great boost to growth at a hugely important time of the year for most farm enterprises.

After last year's spring, I realise now that perhaps I was a bit over-cautious with my letting out dates this year.

I didn't let the last of my cattle out until the end of April, and these really have a lot of catching up to do on the cattle which went out earlier. However, on the plus side they went out into paddocks that had very good grass cover. I also gave them a copper dose as they are grazing a part of my farm which appears to have a copper deficiency problem.

The cattle that went out early have done very well and look like they should be ready to go sometime in late August, even though experience has taught me that it is dangerous to count one's chickens before they are hatched, but we live in hope. Unfortunately, hope is becoming a far too familiar part of cattle farming.

There are always a few cattle that don't do well in the shed, but it never ceases to amaze me how quickly these cattle recover when they go out to grass.


This year is no exception and what appeared to be fairly hopeless cases, including the bullock that got the bad chill at the end of February, have prospered. Nature really is remarkable.

In spite of a slow start, the silage fields which got slurry last February are now growing well. Another field that got slurry last October and was grazed lightly in March is also doing fine, and with a bit of luck they should be ready for cutting in late May.

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I always feel that the countryside looks its best this time of the year – everywhere is very green and the weeds are still not that visible.

I remember a farm business conference a year or so ago where a guest was speaking about the new-found confidence in farming, and covered all the usual issues such as price and costs. What he placed most emphasis on, however, was the inevitability of food scares.

He warned that if question marks arise regarding the safety of what we produce, consumption will drop immediately with catastrophic financial consequences for producers.

He pointed out how BSE hit beef farmers so hard, despite the fact that it was a disease in elderly cows and had little to do with young steer beef. He also spoke of how pork and chicken producers have suffered from factors totally outside their control.

It appears that European consumers are increasingly concerned about the use of agri-chemicals and biotechnology in food production at farm level.

These issues will not go away. So it behoves all involved in farming, from farmers right up to those at ministerial level, to seriously address these issues in a proactive way rather than the usual reactive manner we have become so used to.

The reality is that EU consumers have consistently ignored bio-industry-funded PR campaigns telling them how safe GM food is. What we really need is some serious consumer research in all our major markets to find out what their wishes and concerns are.

As farmers it is then up to us to produce the food they want at a competitive price.

Unfortunately, we are simply being encouraged to produce what the major supermarkets and agri-food sectors feel they can make most profit from. Is it any wonder that beef farming is in chaos?

  • John Heney farms in Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary

Indo Farming