FARMER FOCUS: Back to school – this time as teacher

The past few weeks for me have been “back to school”. Many of the local primary schools have made farming their study topic, so once one school came to visit they all seemed to jump on the bandwagon. I really enjoy showing the kids how their milk is produced and that it doesn’t just magically appear on the supermarket shelves. At such a young age it’s incredible how they soak up so much information and even manage to ask more awkward questions than a group of discussion group farmers.

We also had a local secondary school student here for a week of work experience. It was encouraging to see there are still those who want to pursue a career in agriculture. I can still remember my school careers adviser telling me how I was wasting my time and education going after a job in farming. I think the past few years have shown just how wrong she was, with agricultural being the only truly recession-proof sector.

The maize harvest was one of the best we’ve had since we began growing forage maize in 1991. The weather turned very wet for a few days and ground conditions weren’t great, but after a few good drying days we managed to get all 33ha safely ensiled. The crop averaged about 48t/ha at about 32% DM. We have calculated the extra yield should give us about three months more maize feeding than last year, which will be very useful.

Due to the heavy downpours the whole milking herd has been housed for the past three weeks, with only a few maiden heifers cleaning up the grazing platform. With vaccinations for IBR and BVD all done, we have commenced serving again. This year bulls have been selected with good type merit, feet and legs, udder and +fertility. For our system we need healthy cows that can walk, eat lots of forage, produce milk and get back in calf. Am I asking too much?

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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