There were four farmers around the kitchen table. They were trying to be upbeat about their work and the weather. A few fine days that were promised had disappeared into the ether. Dairy farmers in our locality are into their second round of grazing.

During the first cycle, some paddocks were cut up by the cows. That’s not unusual. In normal weather conditions, the grass recovers. The ground might be a bit rough but the feeding value of the grass remains top notch. The question is: can the grass recover after a second churning up?

Tim was cautious. “Don’t be focusing on the residuals,” he said. “Graze as much as you can. You will fix it later in the year.” Grass paddocks having to be replaced would be an added cost on top of the extra feed that cows are eating. Those bills will be piling up.

Our cows are being fed 6kg of a low-protein ration when they should be on grass only. We got some slurry out here in Woodside last week. Our free-draining ground means we are coping better than farms that have heavier soils.

Tim and I took a trip to see the maiden heifers. They are normally managed by Colm. As he was away, Tim was stepping in. I love those trips. My main focus has been the calf shed and as the calves are growing and thriving, I have more time to do other things.


Farm life is so interesting. The heifers are out and grazing on some newly rented ground just 2km away. It was stubble ground and all of it was ploughed. The weather window back in September 2023 was tiny. Smiths contractors came with multiple machines and the grass seeds were sown quickly. It was a lucky break.

The decision was to put in Westerwolds, a high-yielding, fast-growing ryegrass that is used as a catch crop. It is now tall with lush broad leaves and the heifers are content on it. The daily allocations are kept small to ensure a good graze out. It is important to manage it properly to prevent early flowering and a drop in the feeding value of the grass.

The heifers are also being fed ration. To do this we invested in a mobile field feeder. It is brought home for filling from the meal bin every few days and then returned to the field. The silver feed trailer is parked strategically to service a few moves of the fence. The girls were lying contentedly around it.

They do not understand that the window has gone and the crop will not grow and consequently there will be a lot less Irish-grown produce and so it has to be imported at a huge cost

Tim explained that the heifers have to lick out the feed pellets and after a while they run out of saliva and have to take a break. This prevents them from gorging themselves on meal and running into other problems.

It is an ingenious piece of engineering. Farmers have put out young stock and have had to bring them in again. The change of diet can check their weight gain for two weeks so we are fortunate to have ground suitable to carry the heifers.


Meanwhile, back at the calf shed we vaccinated all the calves for bovine respiratory disease. Pneumonia can be a scourge. The vaccine might not prevent all animals from getting a respiratory infection, but it will certainly reduce the impact on those that might get it.

During this difficult weather, it is important to explain to non-farmers just exactly how some are suffering. There have been several farmers on radio in the last week explaining the situation. I wanted to scream. Telling someone who knows nothing about farming that planting has been delayed by two weeks just makes them think, “what’s all this fuss over two weeks”.

They do not understand that the window has gone and the crop will not grow and consequently there will be a lot less Irish-grown produce and so it has to be imported at a huge cost. So one farmer has to pay a lot more for feed, wiping out his profit and livelihood while another has no money coming in at all because he couldn’t sow the crop.

Keep the message simple, but make it real. Always talk as if you are explaining to someone who has never set foot in a field or a milking parlour.