Business Farming

Thursday 28 August 2014

After the weather that we've had this year I am lucky to have got to October

Published 03/10/2012 | 06:00

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Last Monday (September 24) the grazing season came to a very abrupt end as cows were housed full-time.

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The change came so quickly that the 40 round bales of third-cut silage I had made a week beforehand were being fed the following Monday.

The good September didn't come and it left ground just about manageable. The heavy rains and the colder weather made me say 'enough'.

Grass wasn't building up either for me as I didn't get to sow as much nitrogen in early September as I would have liked.

After the year that has been, I am lucky to have got to October. Cows milked well for the first three weeks of September but I expect a drop when they go indoors. Milk yield is 17.5l/cow, butter fat is 3.87pc and protein is 3.52pc, giving 1.32 kg/MS/cow/day. The somatic cell count (SCC) is at 142,000 and TBC is 8,000.

I just had the cubicles fixed and tightened up for the cows going in. A week was spent welding and patching up some dodgey ones.

The whole secret in maintaining cubicles is to have them well secured. Once they become loose at a joint the cow won't be long finding the weak spot.

The cubicle beds and shed walls were all power-washed and disinfected. I also opened up a new door from the slatted house into the parlour which should ease cow flow. When the parlour was built 17 years ago, one 4ft door was sufficient. But with bigger numbers now, all buildings have to be upgraded.

On September 15 I weighed 28 of this year's calves. The average age was seven months and ranged from 5.5-9 months.

Their average weight was 207kg. This ranged from 160-260kg. The average live-weight gain was 0.8kg/day and this varied from 0.7-0.9kg/day.

The target weight in October for February-born calves is 220kg. I am happy enough with my weights as there are about six calves below target but they are still young.

They can be held off from bulling early. It is a useful exercise to weigh. I recorded the weights on my farm package which calculates the gains. The calves are still getting good grass on the out-farm, along with 2kg of a heifer-grower nut and are dosed regularly.

Scanning of all remaining cows and heifers will take place this week. In-calf heifers will receive their second salmonella vaccine shot too along with any remaining cows to get their annual shot.

I must get my silage results to plan for the winter feeding. With the arrival of the direct payments, my conscience tells me to pay my silage and slurry contractor. I have 18 big squares of straw so far at €50 each. I have more yet to come.

During the first week of September the discussion group visited Moorepark for two days.

Looking at the farms at Curtins and Kilworth I still find it hard to believe they had a wet summer. Curtins has to be the driest farm in the country. Grass was plentiful and the cows were so happy.

Over the two days we looked at the robot milking experiment and the calf management programme at Kilworth, the grass trails at Moorepark and also the current studies at Curtins.

One of the points I came away with was that it is better to use only two or three varieties in a grass seed mix.

I saw many fine paddocks of grass with only one variety in them and they were doing well. But using two varieties will give it more consistency.

I was very impressed with the robot milker. Granted, there was a fabulous grazing plan going with it, but robots have come on well since I saw them first 12 years ago.

The cows were very content. The secret we were told was to 'let the cows think for themselves' rather than the farmer making all the decisions. Once cows get into a routine it should never be broken.

Button and Bow (the two pet lambs) were weighed as well - 55kg and 60kg. They were 200 days at weighing so that gives a live-weight gain of 0.3kg/day. Is this on target?

Gerard Sherlock is a dairy farmer from Tydavnet, Co. Monaghan. E-mail: gsherlock@eircom.net

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