Drought woes: ‘Most of my paddocks have turned burnt red’

After weeks of intense heat and serious drought conditions, Laois dairy farmer Donald Scully says most of his paddocks have already been grazed – with the land now resembling a “burnt red” colour.

And, with temperatures in the midlands expected to continue in the high twenties for the rest of the week, the Ballyroan farmer – who is milking 170 cows – is desperate to see some rain clouds roll in.

Speaking to AgriLand, the chairman of the Laois branch of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) said his acute concerns are: grass growth; winter fodder stocks; and the looming impact of water shortages to his enterprise.

“The drought is a problem for both intensive and extensive farmers, because nothing is growing. Every dairy farmer in my area is either grazing their second-cut silage ground or resorting to feeding silage.

I had to take 50ac out of the grazing rotation for silage and I was left with no other option but to graze it. Most of my paddocks that have been grazed are now gone burnt red in colour.

“I had been feeding first-cut silage; but it made more financial sense to graze the second-cut area. It was cut first on May 25. The second cut was due in mid-July,” he said.

Milk yield drop

Currently Scully is feeding his cows 5kg of meal, which he says is “twice the normal rate” for this time of year.

Milk production is back 2L per cow per day. Trying to keep milk yield up is a real challenge.

In an attempt to alleviate the situation, Scully recently purchased 200 4X4 round bales of hay – a move he describes as something he “never had to do before”.

“They were purchased to try and fill the fodder deficit from the 50ac of silage ground. Some of the bales of hay are coming from as far as 20 miles away,” he said.

Water pressure

With his water well set at 400ft deep, Scully – whose overall farm stocking rate is 2.7 livestock units per hectare – says the system is under “huge pressure” to pump water to cows.

How far am I from running out of water for my cattle? I don’t know. But, I’m struggling to get water to replacement heifers which are over 1km away from the well.

Although the ICMSA representative acknowledged that other farmers on water schemes are in far pricklier positions than he is currently, he raised questions over the silence of certain high-profile politicians that were previously extremely vocal in opposing Government moves to introduce water charges.

“There is no such thing as something for nothing, Paul Murphy (Solidarity TD for Dublin South-West) and Ruth Coppinger (Solidarity TD for Dublin West) have a lot to answer for,” he stated.