Farmer Focus: Seasonal calving is a game of cat and mouse

The south-east coast of Ireland is home to our family dairy farm, where my husband Neil and I have taken over the reins from my father Michael.

Neil and I are not natural-born farmers, but came home to farm following the sudden death of my brother 10 years ago.

That unexpected turn of events was the catalyst for our farm to change from milking twice a day to once a day. This spring marks our eleventh season of milking once a day.

This simple system suits the challenging layout of our steep farm and grants us the incredible flexibility that’s needed with having three young children.

See also: What to consider before switching to once-a-day milking

Seasonal calving on a grass-based system is always a game of cat and mouse with Mother Nature in spring. Thankfully, February was very kind, with cows out grazing day and night – except during Storm Erik.

March already appears to be bringing the lucky dip of extremes, with snow, intense rainfall and low temperatures experienced so far.

The huge benefit of early-grazed grass in the cow’s diet can be seen in the herd’s milk solids, with butterfat of 5.4% and protein of 3.77% on our most recent milk collection.

All the effort that goes into grassland management pays off when you see the cows grazing contentedly and get the bonus of high milk solids, especially when the milk payment structure here in Ireland is based on butterfat and protein content.

Some 80% of our cross-bred herd calved in the first four weeks accompanied by the usual heavy workload and broken sleep.

Fortunately, we have been lucky to have a great student from Dublin for 16 weeks and she has taken to milking cows, feeding calves and mucking in as well as could be expected.

Those long days are easier to manage when things are going in your favour, but one thing I have learned in the past few years is that farming rarely goes smoothly 100% of the time.

We have a long way to go yet before we finish calving and the hurdles of bad weather, scour, mastitis or other health issues could still be looming.  

Gillian O’Sullivan is a dairy farmer from southern Ireland Read more.

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