Farmer Focus: Gloomy May for Thomas Steele

May has been one of those months you’d rather forget, but unfortunately it’s left its mark, quite literally.

The silage season round these parts got off to a start/stop beginning. We managed to cut about 89ha, wilted and lifted at the start of the month in reasonable conditions.

However, heavy rain created more problems and it was over a week before we could go again with ground conditions not being as favourable.

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Soft ground and heavy machinery are not a good combination and it’s fair to say soil contamination is going to be a problem with this later-cut silage.

The wet cold weather has also reduced grass growth and any young stock out grazing are hard to content.

We actually ended up re-housing 100 in-calf heifers during the middle of May as they were doing too much damage. This is something I never remember having to do before.

Maize has been in the ground for over a month and is just starting to peep through.

Both the plastic-sown and open are struggling, but the open maize is way behind.

Plants are yellow and sickly looking and will have a lot of catching up to do during the summer.

All this extra hassle and grief became insignificant when my 10-week-old son was taken into hospital with a severe virus.

Thankfully, due to the fast-acting staff at Ulster Hospital, after five days of treatment Andrew was allowed home again.

With the milk price still showing no signs of improvement we have had to look at cost-cutting measures.

As we approach drying off again we have reduced some of the concentrates going to the low yielders.

The high yielders are still the same and no changes will be made until we stop serving them at the end of July.

Cows are creatures of habit and over the years we have found the best thing is to change as little as possible to avoid upset.

The future for milk production doesn’t look very bright heading into the summer months, but we’re in for the long haul and it’s just a matter of trying to keep our heads down until things improve.

Thomas Steele milks 450 Holstein Friesian cows on a 263ha farm in Co Down, Northern Ireland. He was 2012 Farmers Weekly Dairy Farmer of the Year

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