Henry Walsh: Labour shortages shaping up to be a big issue for next spring‘s calving season

How the year slips by. Already we are assembling the figures for 2019. Our cows are winding down for a well earned rest after a long and productive lactation.

The herd finished grazing the milking platform on November 23 and we opened the silage pit on the same day.

We levelled the woodchip on the out-wintering pad on November 25, with the first group of cows going onto it this week.

Up to this point cows dried off went to grass on the outfarms where we have enough grass to last until December 10 when we will house them and treat with an oral fluke and worm dose if required.

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We will take dung samples again in early December to do an egg count. As readers may recall we skipped the zero withdrawal worm dose during the summer because we heard no coughing and dung samples tested clear at the time.

Overall, I think it was a good farming year with the exceptional spring compensating for a very wet autumn.

Every year brings different weather challenges and we have to take the rough with the smooth. Our overall milk production of 5,200 litres at 4.63pc fat and 3.80pc protein looks to be on a par with 2018 but thankfully less meal was fed.

This gave us 445kg MS/cow or 1,650kg/ms/ha (on the milking platform) from 650kg concentrate per cow. We grew 14t of grass per hectare on the milking platform this year, using 270 units of N per acre all in the form of regular or protected urea.

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This is one of my focus areas going forward to get improved nutrient use and deliver 15t of grass from 150 units of N through better grassland management, more targeted use of slurry with all applications via LESS equipment and learning how to manage clover more effectively.

There is hardly any mention of Brexit in the media at the moment as the climate change debate rages.

This will be the most talked about subject in 2020.

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Agriculture is in the eye of the storm and until there is some balance in the debate farmers will remain the whipping boys while some of the people lecturing us continue to cash in on their frequent flier miles and sip water or coffee from single use plastics driving their electric vehicles.

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I wonder how environmentally friendly are the batteries that power these vehicles and how carbon neutral is the electricity they run on?

In the meantime, there is scant attention paid to food safety and security, below cost selling or the financial and mental stress farmers are enduring.

Beef prices

Meanwhile, we are planning ahead for next spring and unless we see a marked improvement in beef prices, demand for calves could be low. Over the last five years a number of excellent beef and suckler farms around us have been converted to dairy.

Based on the amount of visits I‘m getting I don‘t think this trend is finished yet so I am expecting less buyers, unless the fact that we will have more Angus and Hereford interests them. We must assume that we will have calves longer and this will require more calf housing and labour. We have increased the amount of housing and will be able to accommodate 70pc of the calves on farm.

By that point we should be in a position to move the older heifers outdoors to grass and free up space. Labour is the second part of the formula and we have secured an agriculture student for 14 weeks from the middle of January which should leave us well resourced.

From talking to other dairy farmers, labour is an area of concern and requires some thought now rather than next March.

If you think you are going to be over-worked next spring, identify ways that workload could be reduced.

Would a contractor spreading the slurry and fertiliser help? Would it be possible to get a milker once a day or a person to help with calf rearing?

Will you be exhausted from being up at night, would a night calver be an option for the busy month perhaps in collaboration with another farmer?

Do a priority list and then look around and see what help might be available locally. For example, a transition year student on Saturdays or a retired neighbour might be happy to help with the calf rearing.

Henry and Patricia Walsh farm in Oranmore, Co Galway, along with their son Enda and neighbour and out-farm owner John Moran

Indo Farming

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