Farming near Tempo in Co. Fermanagh, Darren Foy runs a suckler operation with a small-scale wind turbine on the farm also.
The suckler enterprise consists of a 60-cow suckler herd with two Charolais stock bulls, and some cattle kept on and sold as stores in the following year.The farm consists of approximately 150ac of fragmented land – both owned and rented.
The land type in the area would be heavy-type soils and the grazing season for the suckler herd would generally run from March until late October, or “the turn of the clocks” as Darren said.
The farm is as good as self sufficient with regards to machinery and all the work on the farm is carried out by the Foy family.
They have a range of equipment and cut their own silage, spread their own slurry as well as reseed their own ground.
As well as their own machinery, the Foys also installed a windmill on the farm.
Darren explained the wind turbine was built 10-years ago and said there was a grant available at the time for building it.
The windmill doesn’t supply the farm and is instead connected to a power-line and is sold to the grid. The amount of electricity produced is measured on a meter at the base of the windmill.
When driving through the locality, it becomes evident that many of the small and medium-sized farmers in the area have windmills installed.
The cows are a mix of breeds but Charolais and Simmental genetics come to the fore.
Darren outlined that while he does prefer a coloured-type cow, he has a few Angus-cross cows which he said “are bringing very impressive calves as they have such an abundance of milk” seeing as the dam was a dairy breed in these type of cows.
However, while these cows have no scarcity of milk, Darren outlined that they are a smaller-framed cow to the continental and calving down a continental calf can prove to be more difficult for these type of cows.
He noted that a good Simmental can match these type of cows for milk.
Commenting on the artificial insemination (AI) breeding used on the farm, Darren outlined he is now using Saler straws on his better continental cows and heifers.
He explained he is using Saler in the hope of getting a heifer calf which Darren believes would bring a great calf when crossed back to a Charolais.
The farm has both spring and autumn-calving cows, but Darren admitted his preferred system is calving cows in late Janurary/early February and getting them out to grass as soon as conditions allow.
As the land is fragmented, cows can be kept separate and grouped in accordance with calving date. “This also saves having to move cattle in a trailer during the summer,” Darren also noted.
Cows are fed pre-calving minerals which are dusted on top of silage in the run up to calving and all cows get meal post-calving to help boost their milk.
Commenting on his sale strategy, Darren said: “Generally, I don’t sell stock at this time of year, I’ll keep them on and start selling them from February onwards.”
He added that 20 yearlings would be kept on for the summer and sold in August before grass begins to get scarce. Darren likes to have stock to sell at various times of the year rather than selling all stock at the same time. He believes that his method is more advantageous for cash-flow purposes.
Darren outlined that he is always reinvesting and putting money back into the farm. He explained: “The margin, you don’t see it, because you’re always driving on – there’s new machines, a new calving shed going up, you have to spend to have good facilities to help make the job easier.”
He currently has plans to build an extension to an existing calving shed on the farm.
A dosing protocol is in place on the farm and all stock are treated for fluke and worms as well as lice. Darren noted that the most critical thing to reduce sickness at weaning is to minimise stress.
He explained that calves are kept on cows for two weeks post-housing and some for longer – depending on when the cow is due to calve.
Cows are scanned and records kept on each cow’s due calving date and they are then penned accordingly.
Empty cows are grouped and calves are kept on them, however, Darren said “last year was a great year for us and the most of our cows held”.
Darren noted that the farm can get extremely busy during calving season. He said:
“Only for my father is farming with me at the minute, i’d be under far, far more pressure. If you’re on your own, it’s a lot more work.”
Concluding, Darren noted that for the future, he plans to stay around the same number of cows and further improve facilities and infrastructure on the farm.