Category Archives: Farming Outlook

Number 428

On my first married Easter on the farm, I helped deliver calf number 428. It was chaotic. I was only in the yard to remind my newly married spouse that time was ticking and that we had to be driving to my parent’s house in Cork. I wouldn’t ask it now. Come on. But remember, I was new to this and he was still trying to break me in.

So I arrived in the farmyard in my flowery wellies trying to move him on when I heard a lot of mooing; three cows were calving. Himself was helping two cows out in the calving house, one of whom was having difficulty calving (the vet would have to be called) and another who needed some assistance. One nervous heifer (first time mother let’s say) was nervously backing out of a paddock not knowing what was happening to her (in labour). To ease her worry, I, of all people, stepped in, she who had never seen a cow calf before, to help calm the lady down. I shu-shu-shushed her, cajoled her to calm down with my ‘there-theres’ until eventually she settled herself down in a feeding passage (portion in front of the main sheds where silage is placed for the cows to eat) to calf. Not the perfect location let’s say.

When the vet arrived for the cow in the shed, the scene was chaotic, with the two in the shed in trouble, one in the feeding passage in labour, not to mention the new wife in flowery wellies practically singing to the calving heifer. I remember the poor vet asking Dan bewildered if ‘all was alright?’ not quite sure of the scene he had come upon. To be honest, my lady would have calved away by herself but being enthusiastic and fully sure that this new husband of mine could not manage without his new Jane Eyre, I stood behind the cow as she calved. He had given a few instructions. When the crew beans (calf’s hooves) appear and I was sure the calf was coming out the right way, I could help ease the calf out with the cow’s breath. I felt it; and if truth be told, it helped me when it came to my turn in the labour ward. With each exhalation, she pushed her calf further along it’s journey out. I would wait for her to exhale and then pull on the crew beans to help ease her burden. With a breath, a nose appeared, and she’d breathe again; a nose. Eyes, closed. Ears. Shoulders and then slide, the release into the world. She delivered calf number 428.

She was the first little calf I ever helped to deliver. There was so many that Spring and in my quest to impress himself, I spent a lot of time in those days, feeding calves, preparing bedding, cajoling newborns to drink their milk. I remember 428 as a healthy calf. In the years that followed I continued to know her as she was a bit of a pet. They normally don’t but she was one of those who would come over to you for a bit of a rub. If I was hanging out the washing and the cows were grazing in the field behind the house, she would always come over to me. It’s as if she knew.

So Thursday, I got the text. He was selling cows and would I get the cards ready (each cow had a passport that goes with them when they go for sale at the mart)? Her number appeared. There in the list of numbers was number 428. Honestly, the same day was crazy busy. It didn’t have a lot of time to register with me. There was Christmas tree to sort, kids stuff to attend to, I had to milk the cows (me, yes!) so I put it to the back of my mind. Before I knew it, she had left the yard. I can only say that she lived well here. Knowing him, she had always been treated well, ate in fine pasture, sauntered into milk each day for us. But it doesn’t make it easy when a cow leaves the farm. The difference is now though is that I’m not that girl in flowery wellies ‘playing at farming’ anymore. I’m all grown up. Farming is our family business and is our life here. Just like my hands that are no longer soft, I know that we give our animals a good life in return for their produce and then when lameness or old age threatens them, when they don’t go in calf or when their milk supply goes down, it’s their time to leave the herd. No matter what their number.

It’s hard. I’m sad both for 428 and for the girl in flowery wellies who watched her coming into the world. When I finish this post, the thought will be put to bed as I get on with the next chore of the evening. You know, if you’ve read along this while (and I thank you), then you’ll know that I love farming but it really can be a very hard life.

Number 428.

I walk with you

So I thought I was having a bad week. And then I thought again.

It’s been a tough week. As I type I have one little boy in arm my arms burning up with a fever, medicated to cool down into sleep and there is little else for it but to hold him for a while. His brothers are shivering and feverish on the couch. It’s one of those parental days when you put it all on hold to get them back on their feet.

It comes on top of a lot of other things. The bills, the poor milk cheque that we thought would resolve things, the upcoming anniversary trip that maybe we shouldn’t take. The parlour that looks like it might never be built. Poor me.

And then I think of her. She’s putting layers of clothes on her boys so she’ll have enough for them to survive the Eastern European winter. She can’t carry non-essentials. Leaving photographs behind, his first baby hat that she kept because she couldn’t bring herself to throw it away, the little sheet on the wall with the first scribble of his name. Will they make it? Will they survive the walk? Where will it bring them? Will they make it out of the war zone alive?

Perspective.

He is beginning to cool down. He breathes deeply in his little sleep and of course I know he’ll be alright. The bills, well, you know, they always get paid. Farming is a sticky old business. One year you’re doing good enough to invest back into the farm with a new road, an extra spread of lime, reseeding and then along comes the year that is wet and the market dictates your every move. And we sulk a bit (well I do anyway), adjust the budget and recollect ourselves and count our blessings. In a few hours time they’ll be up and running around, fighting and healthy. The parlour, believe me, will get built. It will Dan, it will. We’ll take that trip because we can. And we’ll laugh the whole time. And continue to count our blessings.

So as I sit and type with my boy in arms, I walk with you. You don’t know me. I don’t know you. But I walk with you. That you and your little boys be safe, that you are delivered to safety soon.

Second Cut Silage

I’m stuffed from cold chips. It’s that kind of a day. You grab meals while you run between the two smallest boys who want a drive on one of the five tractors bringing in silage outside the door and the kitchen where you run getting the tea ready. By now, I can time it well enough. They have another five acres to collect, the sky is holding, so the silage men will eat before they cover the pit. I’ve got a half an hour.

It was an early start. As always, we were in a rush around the farmhouse, our usual tardy selves catching up with the day. I put the bacon onto boil while I made the scones; a dozen brown, a dozen fruit. With the oven still hot, I put the bacon now smeared with honey, mustard and cloves into bake and it’s scent wafts into every corner of the house. I lay the table and have to run to town. I never know when the crew are to eat until closer to the time so I have the food ready to go. Scones covered, ham cooling, salads ready.

All the way home from town the boys ask if the tractors have arrived. I’m not sure. Maybe. Probably. Every five minutes or maybe less, the same answer. Soon. Probably. Maybe. We’ll see. And then as we drive along our road, we can see the big machines in the silage fields sucking up the grass like a straw in a green field with their forage harvesters. To placate the boys who just want to go to Daddy, I set two chairs up in the field so they can watch the trailers emptying their loads of grass onto the pit and see the awe-inspiring packer climb over the grass even-ing it off expertly. I know it would take my boys in wellies about five minutes to get to the gate so I run between them and the kitchen. With the tractors parked up in the yard, I can switch on the oven and fill the kettle all the time running between the children and the oven.

All plates were eaten whilst watching an Irish athlete go for gold at the Olympics. He broke an Irish record as we all watched on drinking the tea and eating the ham, satisfied. No rest for the wicked, the pit has to be covered, the children have to watch on and I have the ware to wash. The cow’s feed saved for the winter. I might just flick that kettle on again before the running starts again. Second cut silage saved.

Bouquet

So I cleared the breakfast ware earlier than usual this Saturday morning to make room for my bouquet of grasses. I was standing on the road herding the cows into the parlour yard for the farmer, I have my uses, when I saw along the hedgerow a meadow of grasses. It’s that time of year, we’ve had heat, sun and now moisture and the hedges are bursting with colour. I was a woman with a one track mind, not the cuckoo flower or daisy for me today, no, I was collecting grasses.

My farmer tells me that the field the cows had just come out of was at one time, perhaps fifty years ago, similar to my beautiful meadow. With reseeding, advances in agricultural knowledge, the grasses for grazing are made up of ryegrasses and clover. Now for the science bit. Such grasses are hardier, better for grazing, have more mid season regrowth (don’t ask me questions), are higher in sugar, have a good PH and are ideal for preserving
IMG_0625 winter food for the cows. Why, the clover is even fixates nitrogen, essential for growth of the sward. I know, I don’t recognize myself. Who is this knowledgable lady? Ta-dah.

So where does that leave our lovely meadow. Well outside the grazing paddock, out to pasture. In the farm’s memory, you could nearly see another farmer spreading a seed-drill of cocksfoot, annual meadow grass or scutch to name but a few. And here we are grazing our cows on ryegrass,  perhaps whispering a hello to great grand children. Wouldn’t that be grand?

So this amateur botanist is away now to clear away the table for the next meal that may or may not include men cutting our grass for silage. It depends I suppose on whether or not this passing shower will turn into rain all day. Such a precarious business this grass growing.

A bouquet of grass for you Madame/Monsieur.

Girl in Wellies 2.0

She thought she knew it all. Had this farming business down. She was wrong.

You might have noticed my absence over these months. I haven’t been away. Still here throwing a shape as they say on a farmhouse in North Kerry. However, to add an extra dimension to the household, I have returned to college (on a very part time basis) to study agriculture. Yes, I’ll say it again, he did see me coming. Studying for ‘The Green Cert’ has benefits for our farm and our plans for the future but what I wasn’t expecting was the fact of how little knowledge of farming I actually had and whats more this new venture in learning was a step into the virtual unknown. Indeed.

I had mentioned to a couple of friends that I was thinking of doing it. The city friends, knowing me, laughed. Did she ever see herself studying farming, didn’t she avoid farmers around campus for fear of ending up anywhere other than a swanky European capital without a filofax or shoe budget to her name (ah the notions of a twenty something language graduate, bless). The country friends, both male and female, have looked at me in awe, telling me their own stories of farming college, the year they ‘gave in Pallaskenry’ and said ‘Fair dues,’ smiling all the while at the poor misfortunate that didn’t really know what she was getting herself into.

The first few visits to college have been tragic. Examinations not going well (something as a top student, ahem, I was utterly unprepared for), and the dawning realization that not having grown up on a farm or not having really been listening to my husband talk about the farm (yes dear, spreading in the High Field, I hear you, should I take in the washing?), I am swimming up the proverbial slurry pool without a paddle. Pooooh- eee.

I mean did you know there were different types of Grass? Nor did I! I thought it was classified by colour; green, greener, greenish, yellow tipped, dark green, oh, that’s green. Forty shades what? No apparently, it’s all Perennial Ryegrass this, Scutch Grass that, Cocksfoot, Timothy, Yorkshire, Meadow Fescue to name but a few. And I think my girlish charms are not going to get me out of this one. (Not that I batted my eyelashes and said Green when asked, no, no!) And they’re going to test me on this. Really! I kid you not. Stand in front of this grass and identify them they’ll say. Identify them? Trust me, they are very similar. Please note (though you may have it figured), if you’re a botanist, this is most definitely not the blog for you.

Turning this around, I see this new phase in my educational life as a opportunity. One that I hope to share with you, if you want to listen that is. Climbing up the next step on the agricultural ladder as I leave the flowery wellies behind for a brand new pair of the more serious Dunlops. If nothing else, farming prepares you for a life of overcoming the odds, all the while with the good farmer by my side, explaining as I go along. You know, I might just learn to wade well through that river of slurry, emerging as a newer and better version of myself. Stranger things have happened, like they’ve labelled grass!

Yours, Girl in Serious Wellies, version 2.0.

On Silage

You may read this, and I hope it happens, and feel a wave of nostalgia at the image of the pit. ‘Come down off that, you’ll tear the plastic!’ Personally, as a city girl, I feel robbed of the endless days running over tyres and sliding down plastic. As the country mother, I feel the sheer dread of the forty foot drop over the top of the pit. As the farmer’s wife, I breathe deeply with relief at the mountain of silage ahead of the cows for the winter.

It’s done. The silage is in. The week was spent busily feeding ‘silage’ men and keeping children inside the gate. As you can imagine,  the small boys just wanted to be on the road looking at the huge machinery bringing the grass into the pit. ‘Come in off the road!’ By Thursday, the men were on top of the huge mound rolling down the plastic to cover this year’s pit. Tyres were piled on top on a blustery June week to keep the plastic down and weights were placed around the border to ensure it stayed put. In it’s winter home, the grass sealed in plastic without air will become pickled in it’s own juices.

The tractors on the road are fewer, the slurry needs spreading on the bare root fields after mowing. The farmer is happy with the crop this year, knowing that he’ll peel back the plastic slowly this winter and with the loader of his tractor, chomp into the mound to feed his cows. Phew.

To the Mart

He may only be three going on four but already you get glimpses of the man he’ll become. I’ll be talking to Daddy he tells me excited at the day that lays ahead. I’ll be up on the big box with Dan (as he calls Daddy) when we sell the calves. The same calves who he tried to feed some weeks before. The same calves he let lick or morelike swallow his little hand previously.

He walks down the drive with a little swagger behind his father who is busy trying to think of what else he might need for the mart. Calves, check. Calf cards, check, phone, wallet, keys check, little namesake, check. The rain pours down on them but little will dampen the spirits of the three year old, who carrying the ham sandwiches on Thomas the Tank backpack, will drive with Daddy in his tractor to the mart.

The city woman in me used to wonder what we would tell them about the days we would have to put calves in the trailer to take to the mart. It used to make me a little sad but I’ve come to realize that my life as a farmer’s wife is less of a novelty now and more the norm by the year. That these little of boys of mine while adoring their animals, know from a young age that taking the calves to the mart is a part of the job. Not a time for sentimentality mom.

Just before being lifted up high by his Daddy towards his little seat on the tractor, he gives me one big wave and a happy smile. He’s off for a day at the mart, a day with Daddy. Such a big boy now.