My mantra for the last few weeks has been “my house is untidy but the calf shed is in pristine order.” I give a pointed look at my visiting friends, encouraging them not to look around too hard. Most of them know the situation. It is difficult enough to keep one house tidy without adding another dimension.

My priority has been the calf shed. It is humming. Over the years, we have learned to manage our resources and our energy. The spring for farming families is wonderful but manic. Finally, the sun is shining. It is phenomenal how quickly the countryside is changing. Tractors are starting to roll and fertiliser is being put out. The cows’ coats are shining up and the grass is growing.

The swallows are back, indicating that summer is not too far away. They arrived early last week. They always lift my heart as they flit and fly in and out of the garage. We have five nests there – just two are occupied as yet.

Strangely, one bird has come and put a roof of feathers and sticks on one of last year’s swallow’s nests. I haven’t yet discovered which bird is the creator. We will have fun and intrigue figuring it out.

Before I left the house that morning, I had fingered a beautiful wedding invitation on the kitchen table; a promise of a good day out and maybe even sunshine. The birds were in full song. The swallows were already high up in the sky chasing flies. The cherry blossom by the yard has started to bloom. The cows were waiting in the passage for milking.


The day before, we had weighed the heifer calves. Colm had fashioned a timber race for them to come out one of the small access gates onto the scales and exit at the other side back into the pen. The gates to lock the calves back from the feeders allowed us to get through the job efficiently. All wonderful, functional workmanship by O’Donovan Engineering, Coachford. The top girls weighed 100kgs and are being weaned. The weights go all the way down to 40kgs.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be trying to equalise out the groups as much as possible before they go out on grass. We will retain 70 and sell 30. This is the opportune time to optimise growth. These heifers will never in their lives grow as rapidly as they are now. We have raised our target weaning weight to 100kgs to improve the quality of the heifers calving into the herd in two years’ time.

A fault

That day ahead was going to be an ordinary one with no big job on. I planned to get back to the house to do some housework and maybe even prepare the dinner. The automatic feeders have really come into their own now as the calves are well adjusted to them. I have more time.

Sinead, the apprentice, told me that there had been a message about a faulty feeding station recorded at 3.15am. I had no idea where to turn

I entered the shed. Immediately, I noticed a bunch of heifers queuing at a feeding station. The heads were up and the pleading eyes towards me. They were pushing each other with some climbing on others. You think small kids are demanding when dinner is late? These sophisticated ladies were very agitated. One thing I have noticed is that there is no bawling from the calves on the automatic feeders. They don’t associate humans with with giving them the feed. So the shed is largely calm and silent.

Sinead, the apprentice, told me that there had been a message about a faulty feeding station recorded at 3.15am. I had no idea where to turn. Then I remembered that I had the the name of a JFC service technician for our area – Liam Ryan. I rang Liam and logged the problem. Within 40 minutes, he was back talking me through how to fix the fault which was a stuck float in the milk distribution area. We were up and running again within an hour of making contact. I was very impressed with the service.

New systems have to be supported by good service people in order for the animals to be fed efficiently. This means that good husbandry and calf health are not impacted when a fault is detected. The rest of the day ran smoothly.

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