Farm Ireland

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Beef: A few sunny days work wonders in the fields

Robin Talbot

Published 15/04/2015 | 02:30

Since Ribena stopped buying from Irish growers two years ago Des Jeffares has become the last commercial blackcurrent grower in the country.
Since Ribena stopped buying from Irish growers two years ago Des Jeffares has become the last commercial blackcurrent grower in the country.

It's amazing the way a couple of warm sunny days can transform the countryside and, being honest, our mood as well.

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Nowhere was the spurt of growth more noticeable than in our oats which, although sowed in ideal conditions, only just started peeping above the ground last weekend.

Within the space of two days, the crop had totally emerged, with all the rows and tramlines very visible.

I could almost make myself believe that the grass was blowing in the light breeze in pastures that had been quite bare up to this point.

Most of our cows and calves are out to grass and seem very content. Long may it last.

Turnout this year was a couple of weeks later than usual because of the poor growth. That means that the grazing season for our bull calves is already a couple of weeks shorter than I would have liked.

Because of we are producing beef from under 16-month bulls there is no scope to lengthen the grazing season at the back end. This is because the system requires the bulls to come in late August and early September in order that they get an absolute minimum of 100 days of intensive feeding indoors.

We learned this to our cost this last year.

Grazing conditions and grass quality at the end of August/early September last year seemed ideal so we left the bulls out a couple of weeks longer. The first of the bulls that went for slaughter only had about 80 days of intensive finish indoors. As a consequence, they were a little lighter than we planned and were also borderline for fat score.

Once we were drafting bulls that had been in for at least 100 days, there was a marked improvement in both weight and fat cover. Lesson learned.

The last six of these will be slaughtered this week so it will give us a chance to do the calculations on them, to see how much meal they ate and measure that against their performance.

All our ground is closed up for silage. Some of the silage ground got slurry, some didn't. But it all got 200kg/ac of 24:2.5:10. Some of this ground was closed up earlier and the plan will be to cut this around May 15, weather permitting.

We switched to this cutting date a few years back to ensure optimum quality for the fattening cattle. We target at least 75 drymatter digestibility (DMD) for this silage.

The remainder will be cut the end of May, at hopefully around 72DMD.

We didn't get as much slurry spread on the silage ground as I would like. As a rule, we avoid spreading slurry after grazing on ground for the mid-May cut, just in case we hit a dry or cold spell of weather that results in some slurry contamination of the silage.

In hindsight, we should have spread a lot more slurry earlier but I think I was a little bit like Goldilocks, one day it was too wet, another it was too cold, another too windy…you get the idea.

I know now we should have spread more in early February when field conditions were ok. Now we will have to put out a lot of slurry on the silage stubble straight after cutting. Since we will be taking two cuts off most of the silage ground, that will work out fine.

The beef heifers which will all go for slaughter out of the shed in the next month are starting to concern me a little bit. Although they appear to be thriving well and are eating plenty, a few of them are starting to go quite lame.

These heifers would have spent the winter on rubber-covered slats where we didn't notice any significant lameness. But since most of the cows have gone out I moved them from the slats into a straw-bedded shed, thinking this would be ideal for their final six-week finish.

There are enough of them lame to be concerned and I'm afraid it could be Mortellaro. At the first available opportunity we will put them all through the cattle crush, separate out any showing signs of lameness and put them into a separate shed. Then I think we need to put them all through the footbath for a few days.

Robin Talbot farms in Ballacolla, Co Laois in partnership with his mother Pam and wife Ann.


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