Farm Ireland

Thursday 14 December 2017

We won't be repeating last year's barley mistake

Robin Talbot

Whatever about the gloomy economic environment, it is good to see the return of some sunny weather. A bit of heat on the back is a welcome boost for man and beast.

It's been great, too, to get back checking and counting stock in the field rather than feeding and bedding them in the yard. While the covers of grass on the farm are slightly less than one would expect for this time of year, due largely to the continued night frosts, the dry underfoot conditions mean that utilisation is excellent.

There was quite a bit of frost-burnt grass around the farm which has now been grazed off. Nobody knows what the grazing season holds in store but it's really important to clean off this grass and open up the pasture, to set it up to produce quality pasture for the year ahead.

At this point most of the cattle are out. This gives us a chance to get our spring barley sowed. The new cycle is starting again, producing feed for next winter.

But we won't be repeating the mistake we made last year. In previous years barley had been making around €90 a tonne off the combine and, since all our tillage work is done by contract, it seemed more cost-effective at the time to buy it rather than grow our own. And we all know what happened since. Despite the prices predicted for this autumn, we won't be increasing our overall tillage area because all the barley is for our own use.


We have ploughed a field of lea this year. It's old pasture and we will put spring barley in it. We have quite a bit of new grass coming into the grazing system this year but I hope to push on and reseed some more fields later on in the summer.

All the calves targeted for export got a bolus at turn-out. This bolus contains selenium, iodine, cobalt and copper.

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We scanned the cows recently and were happy with the results. Of the 12 that were empty, two were rearing twins, one was a cow that got very sick during the breeding season and another was very lame which leaves eight cows with no excuse.

We would always have worked a system of only keeping suckler cows that were rearing a calf but I feel now that we need to take this one step further and only keep a cow that is rearing a calf and is back in calf again. With this in mind these 12 empty cows have now been weaned and will be sold fat off grass in May.

An interesting point that showed up in our scanning was that all bar one of the 45 heifers rearing calves were back in calf. And also, over 60pc of them went in calf in the first 30 days of the breeding season.

The only thing we did with these, different to the rest of the herd, is that they all got a trace element bolus (the same one as the calves at turnout) before the breeding season began.

I think this might encourage me to do all the cows next year. Obviously there is a cost involved but if it means that the cows would go in calf quicker I think this would more than offset the expense.

We sent some 23-month-old beef heifers to the factory last week. They averaged 362kg carcass weight. There was one R grade on them, the rest of them were Us, with half of those U+. Their fat scores ranged from 3- to 4+. The grid made a big difference to their value.

I'm looking forward to going to the Teagasc National Beef Conference in Kilkenny next week. There looks to be some interesting papers on the menu and I'm especially interested in the section about breeding efficiency and breed improvements in beef herds.

Robin Talbot farms in partnership with his wife, Anne, and mother, Pam, at Ballacolla, Co Laois

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