Farmer Focus: Keeping cows housed pays off

With the unpredictable weather, having two completely dry days in a row is becoming quite rare. We managed to knock down 32ha of first cut on 5 May, but it was over a week later before we could cut the remaining 100ha.

Conditions weren’t perfect, but hopefully, the quality should be good. We also managed to get our lucerne baled and averaged 32 big bales a hectare. A massive thanks goes to all who worked into the small hours to get silage and baling done to beat the rain.

Our new strategy of keeping all the herd housed this year seems to be paying off. Since around February our margin over feed and forage has been increasing by about ₤50 a cow a month and milk sold a cow has increased by about 200 litres. With the milk price still sitting around 33p/litre this obviously helps our margin.

See also: Read more from our other livestock farmer focus writers

I think that we, as dairy farmers in today’s ever changing environment, have to learn to be more adaptive to the market changes to survive. If milk was sitting at below 30p, the current plans probably wouldn’t work and a rethink would be required.

We enjoyed hosting a group of dairy farmers from China. Although our countries are miles apart, there is much common ground on our problems and goals. But what did, however, shock me was that it’s costing them about 40p/litre to produce milk. They don’t seem to be very efficient at producing milk and still seem to be playing catch-up. I’m not too sure what made the bigger impression on them, seeing the farm or realising that I had three children, as the single child policy still applies in China.

A few weeks ago a group of us headed across to the NMR/RABDF Gold Cup open day in England. We also took in a few farm visits, including the anaerobic digester plant at Harper Adams University College. The fact that the day after our visit part of the processing tank collapsed had nothing to do with the group of Northern Ireland farmers – honest!

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