Farmer Focus : Wilbert Girvan 14/01/05

I ALWAYS GET nervous over Christmas and New Year in case we have any breakdowns when all spare parts suppliers are enjoying well-earned holidays.

Like me, most livestock producers use various forms of machinery, ranging from mill/mixers, bruisers, feeder wagons and scrapers, as well as tractors and the all-important loader. A burnt-out electric motor or a broken belt or chain can cause havoc when the normal supply of spares is unavailable.

All young cattle have settled down for what is usually a long winter. They are all on a diet of ad-lib silage supplemented with barley and maize gluten. Last year I tried to cut costs – Robert Forster take note – by reducing what I thought were expensive minerals.

However, this resulted in cattle showing signs of calcium deficiency. This year, I am using minerals at the full inclusion rate plus limestone flour as an extra safeguard.

Of 43 Luing heifers, there was only one barren at pregnancy testing. Unfortunately, cows could not match them with 8% empty. My vet tells me less than 6% should be achievable.

Looking forward, 2005 is now a reality and in all my years I don’t think my crystal ball has been more clouded in forecasting what the New Year will bring.

Much has been written by farming pundits that there is no evidence of suckler cow numbers reducing. Well, of course not – they are all either still suckling calves or are still under retention for suckler cow premium.

Our retention period finishes on Jan 17 and 40 aged Blue-greys, all the barren cows, plus a few inferior cows, totalling about 70 head will be culled. Our suckler herd will be reduced to just over 200 good Luing cows which seem to have the best chance of a commercially viable future.

If we have to choose between doing nothing and making nothing or working hard to lose money, I know what my choice will be.