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What it means to be an organic farmer in Ireland today … Jenny Young writes about life and work on an organic mixed farm in Co Kildare - and selling its produce.
At the beginning of this month we dried off our herd of 89 organic cows. To slow down their milk production we milked once a day for a couple of days. Then we withdrew their silage feed and replaced it with straw.
Yippee one more month milking, before we dry off for the winter.
At the beginning of November we bring our cows indoors for the winter. For the next two months they will sleep indoors on straw bedding and will be fed a diet of silage, which is wilted grass that we cut and put into a pit or baled earlier in the summer.
August and September are the months when I supply organic fruit, vegetables and duck eggs to The BrookLodge Hotel for its annual harvest menu in The Strawberry Tree restaurant.
We have been walking the farm on a weekly basis to manage our dairy herds grazing. The gorgeous warm July and its lack of rain means our organic grass is sparse. We have had to feed silage ground, earmarked for winter feed. Hopefully we will not have to buy in too much organic dairy feed this winter as a substitute.
So far the summer has been good to us dairy farmers at Castlefarm. The warm weather has meant lot of grass growth and we have managed to harvest our second cut of silage.
The Castlefarm garden is beginning to yield vegetables. Due to an especially busy spring calving this year sowing was delayed. However at last we are enjoying lettuce, courgettes and rocket. Cucumbers are appearing in the poytunnel as well as the first tomatoes.
It's May and things are relatively settled at Castlefarm. With calving over, breeding season begins. This means six weeks of intensive AI to ensure suitable calves for easy calving next year and a good blood line for our future dairy herd.
At this stage 80 of our cows have calved. We have 26 heifer (female) calves out on grass, although we still feed them milk twice a day. Spring has been difficult. The calves got a bug, which spread, from calf house to calf house. 50 sick calves is no laughing matter. Still the hardship of calving time is now nearly over.
After taking a couple of weeks off in January for holidays, I am back on the farm preparing for Spring calving. February 1st marks the official start to calving at Castlefarm. We will have 90 cows calving down, the majority within an 8 week period. This means keeping a close watch on the expectant mothers and making sure that every calf born drinks a feed of milk within an hour of being born.