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While we are both in the season of field work and societal COVID-19 restrictions, it seems that the hum of farm machinery is more prolific than the roar of aircraft over our skies heralding the arrival of visitors to our shores for their summer sojourn.

The majority of these machines are operated by agricultural contractors, and what a service they provide to us farmers. They have enabled farmers to expand and concentrate their resources on stockmanship and managerial tasks within their business by outsourcing most machinery related tasks. The farmer does not have to have an expensive piece or pieces of machinery on his balance sheet and deal with the maintenance and associated costs. Nor does the farmer have to procure the labour to operate that same machinery.

I sometimes read articles with headings that go along the lines of ‘See how this one labour unit operation manages 150 dairy cows’. Who wouldn’t want to read such an article and find out what that farmer eats for breakfast or what unique genetics they posses or even what combination of both allows them to mange that number of cows alone and unaided. The reality however is somewhat different, the modern large scale farmer usually subcontracts out key duties such as silage making, slurry spreading etc. There is usually some amount of casual labour employed during the busy period whether in the form of a student in the spring or relief milkers in the summer. the actual man hours associated with running a dairy farm in particular would be unsustainable otherwise.

Every year as part of our dairy discussion group, we endeavour to fill in a profit monitor. It is a super resource in terms of bench marking where your at in terms of profitability with other similar farms and in turn it can help with projecting where you might be in the future financially. I have one issue with the profit monitor however and that is that in many cases the farmer does not put in a figure for his own hours worked and hence there is no cost put in for his labour. If this figure is left out of the final analysis, it gives an unrealistic farm profit figure. This serves nobody well and perhaps takes some of the onus off our co-ops to pay a better price.

High quality baled silage now makes up a decent proportion of dairy cows diet, the cows are satisfied enough on this but it does create a good deal of extra work feeding it out. This will be our modus operandi until the rain arrives. In the past few days we have put a vasectomised teaser bull with the cows. We find this one of the most effective ways of picking up late heats in cows. He is fitted with a chin ball harness which will act like a big ball point pen and mark the cows with paint. It’s a simple technology but it works and works well.

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