Let me say at the outset if any of my family wanted to start a dairy farm, I’d heartily encourage them. But it’s easy for me to say this as it’s very unlikely this will happen.
While my two London-living daughters obviously grew up on the farm, it sort of passed them by and their interest in farming matters might extend – at a push – to an occasional peek at this column online and that would be it.
Youngest daughter Alison would be a great dairy farmer as she loves animals and I think she could turn her hand to anything, but cows? Hardly.
An agricultural science teacher friend recently asked me why has dairy farming suddenly become so popular
Son Max is a chip off the old block and would even prefer oddball farming like climbing up banana or coconut trees in scorching African heat sooner than milk cows. So why are cows on my mind today?
An agricultural science teacher friend recently asked me why has dairy farming suddenly become so popular, which started me thinking. What is the attraction to cows?
The short answer is that I don’t know, and it has puzzled me too. There is no doubt that we have, in this country, a competitive advantage when it comes to growing grass. Cows are the most profitable animal to consume this, so if grass is your thing, they may be your best bet.
That’s alright and understandable if your farm is only suited to grass and you like cows – you must like cows – but they’re not the only option.
Sheep also, to the best of my knowledge, eat grass and are, I’m told, highly profitable at the present time. There are even sheep farmers who’ve incorporated their farm businesses to reduce the nasty bite of the taxman.
There’s the finest of tillage land going down to grass for dairy cows
But yet sheep farming is on the wane and I’d say there’s more of an exit rather than there are new entrants. Are there even sheep farmers converting to dairy? As the Carlsberg man says, probably.
However, it’s not that simple or all about grass. There’s the finest of tillage land going down to grass for dairy cows. Now this, I don’t understand. I do, of course, realise that tillage farming is not as profitable as dairy farming but is that a good reason to follow the crowd? Nonetheless, people have families to feed and educate (the feeding bit is easy) and, calling a spade a spade, a hundred acres of tillage will deliver a poor income compared to 80 cows.
But seemingly, it’s not really about 80 cows anymore. Many of the new converts are talking in hundreds of cows. Is it excessive or economy of scale or what is it? Financially is there no future in farming less than 100 cows? God be with the days, not very long ago, when 100 cows were seen as a decent-sized herd. The way things are going it’ll take a 500 cow herd to be viable in 10 years’ time. And then Glanbia won’t take your milk…
Pigs with their high feed conversion ratio have, to my mind, the brightest future of all meat
Which is, of course, is what has happened with pigs. You now need thousands of sows to be viable. But while the IFA would have you believe there’s no money in pigs (or in anything but cows), nonetheless, I’d say the top pig producers are doing very nicely, thank you. Pigs with their high feed conversion ratio have, to my mind, the brightest future of all meat. They also burp less methane – I’d be a greater risk to the environment than a pig.
Yet nobody is rushing into pigs. It’s cows, cows and more cows.
But me? I’m sticking with tillage, at least till the cows – or Alison – come home.