Farmer Focus: Do we cull harder, or sell the surplus heifers?

I feel it’s safe to say that milk price is currently the hot topic on dairy farmers’ lips. With no sign of markets improving in the short term, the options for a quick fix look light.

The old saying of “tightening your belt” only works for a little while and then something has to give. Also, I feel the general public doesn’t fully understand what we as dairy farmers are up against and the impact a low price for our produce can have.

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I recently was asked by the Ulster Farmers Union to do an interview for the local news to explain how it was affecting our business. The main purpose was to explain to the public how cheap food isn’t necessarily a good thing and the impact it would have on the dairy industry. I feel this is where we, as producers, don’t do enough to promote our produce or educate people about how food gets from farm to fork.

The maize harvest this year was a bit of a start, stop affair. We harvested 13ha to allow winter wheat to be sown in the same fields, then the weather broke and it was two weeks before we got back to cut the remaining 22ha. All in all, the maize crop turned out well, although a few fields that have been a long time in maize were quite weedy and this dragged yields back.

With the maize now in the milker’s ration, a few tweeks have been made to the diet and milk yields have improved over the past few weeks. Hopefully, this maize crop should see us through until about June/July.

This is the first time I have ever been heard to complain about too many heifer calves. Our normal grumble on the farm is too many bulls and not enough heifers for replacements. However, the use of sexed semen on the cows and heifers is starting to boost numbers greatly. So far we have 120 heifer calves on the ground compared with just 63 last year.

The next decision is do we hold on to them and cull harder or sell the surplus? For once it’s a nice problem to have.