Autumn 2021 will be remembered as the best autumn in recent memory for grass growth however even with that said we are transitioning the dairy herd from a diet of grass and three kilograms of meal to a diet that by next week will be a trio made up of grass, silage and meal.
We began closing the farm in early October but it has become obvious in recent years that with the advent of new grass swards and better soil fertility we can push that date out by a paltry few days. The value of grass this time of the year is at its lowest so everything we do now is with eyes on next spring and hopefully getting our freshly calved cows straight to grass in early February.
We indeed are on the slow wind down of grazing with the dairy herd, we are hopeful still to keep them at grass into the first week of November. On the other hand our pasture fed hen flock will be grazing right through the winter as they graze all year round. This takes a bit of planning and as always the key is to keep the hens moved regularly to fresh grass. The sward they are grazing in today is rich in clover and they love nibbling on it.
We find that the hens have a preference for a nice leafy, low sward that is high in quality grass. They can be seen scattered across the pasture grazing the sward, the benefits to the hen are manifold. She is getting grass that is natural and chemical free into her system which promotes longevity for her as she is expressing her natural tendency to roam and graze. Our humble hen also is getting huge amounts of vitamin D from the sun as she grazes which not only benefits her but us also when we eat those pasture raised eggs.
Hens have a love for the variety within a sward and as our hen’s pastures are chemical free, varieties such as plantain proliferate in the sward, this leafy plant often considered by many as a weed contains high levels of vitamin A and C. It has proven itself as a strong preventative of coccidiosis in hens and has been shown to enhance immune function in animals that digest it.
We are in the process of installing two large sand boxes for our hens to roll around in and dust bathe. Hens need to dust bathe and they do so frequently in nature. This is how they keep themselves free of external parasites that can cause all sort of maladies to their health as well as destroying their lovely feathers. This is all part of giving the hen every chance to express herself fully.
A recent win by fellow parishioners Jim and Brian O’ Leary in the large category of this year’s Irish Charolais Cattle Society Suckler Herds Competition was a reminder of the suckler cow’s prominence in the county. It was a fitting tribute to what can be achieved with hard work and attention to detail in an industry that often faces negative headwinds.