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Farmers have had to learn to adapt to new technology

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: August 26, 2014

Creating bales of hay in   the 1970s with the technology of the time. Today's machinery dwarfs that of 40 years ago.

Creating bales of hay in the 1970s with the technology of the time. Today's machinery dwarfs that of 40 years ago.

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Farmer Richard Spencer looks at how farming has changed over the years.

SATURDAY came and went – party arranged, party over.

The rain only became serious later in the evening and we partied until late. Result!

Where was farming when we married 40 years ago?

Hundred-cow units were starting to become common, with the cows loose-housed in cubicles or straw yards, and milked through a parlour, but the occasional horse could still be seen working – including here.

Cows were still housed in traditional sheds and very many farms were still mixed, with a little arable, root crops to feed livestock; sheep, milking cows, poultry and, on a few farms, a small drift of pigs.

How times change. In virtually every village now, the small farm which at one time supported a family and perhaps even an employee has been broken up.

Some of the fields have been added to adjoining farms and city money has converted the farm buildings to rural idylls, complete with pony paddocks and half an acre of manicured lawn.

What a waste of what was once productive farmland – 6ft walls complete with security gates and enough lights to light up Blackpool, totally destroying the once wonderfully dark night sky.

Not only has the visual changed, but the farming has, too.

Technology is with us and efficiency rules. Trying to maintain a margin over production costs, units are becoming more specialised, be it livestock or crops.

More specialisation and larger units, bigger numbers of cows per stockman, greater flocks of sheep per shepherd, hundreds upon hundreds of acres per tractor, cultivator and combine.

Adopting and developing technology along the way has enabled standards of welfare to rise at the same time.

The "Jack of all trades" has become a highly skilled technician.

Cows in the milking herd now wear transponders, which are recognised by the computer. Feed is automatically dispensed as she enters the milking parlour.

Milk yield and temperatures and recorded, with anomalies highlighted.

A high temperature could mean the cow is on heat and needs to be put in calf. It could also mean she is in the early stages of infection.

Robot milkers can milk up to 80 cows per station automatically.

Sheep pass through a narrow passage – a race – wearing their electronic ear tag.

The scanner, if programmed, can automatically record weights via the digital weigh scales and divert sheep into appropriate groups. The results and information are all recorded on the farm computer.

Modern equipment gently picks up sheep and turns them over for routine pedicures – essential if back pain is to be avoided in a large flock.

Tractors, seed drills, combine harvesters, fertiliser spreaders and sprayers can all be linked to satellite technology, adapting application rates dependent upon the information the satellite is delivering to the on-board computer.

The size of the equipment dwarfs that of 40 years ago – a day's work being done in a couple of hours.

Then, it was not uncommon to hear a teacher comment on a pupil who was struggling academically: "Oh well, he can always be a farmer".

Nothing could be further from the truth.

See you next week.

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