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Independent.ie

Sunday 24 September 2017

Our plans to turn the stock out early have been shelved for now

Winter barley
Winter barley

Robin Talbot

March has certainly has come in with a roar this year, with our area getting 3.5 times the usual rainfall for this time of the year. Almost overnight field conditions went from ideal to almost impassable

So the plans to turn stock out on the abundance of early grass have been shelved again for another while.

Although it is very noticeable that the bull calves with access to good grass, slightly farther away from the yard, have no issue with the weather and, regardless of the amount of rain falling, seem to spend the whole day out grazing.

The fact that these calves are only around 250kg means they are not doing any poaching. Also, their mothers seem quite content to remain indoors.

But I would assume that, when the weather does pick up, we will be able to turn out the remaining cattle, in bigger numbers and quicker.

Like a lot of beef farms, insofar as we can, we tend to make sure that, when we let out the stock, they can stay out.

The heaviest covers of grass are on a few fields that were reseeded in the last two years, so obviously the sod would still be quite tender and we won't be grazing those until they are fully dry - however long that takes.

We recently completed our herd test and thankfully it was all clear, so, hopefully, that job is out of the way for another 12 months.

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We also scanned all the cows last week. We were well satisfied with the results. In all, 92pc of them are in calf after a 10-week breeding period and 72pc of those were in calf in the first 30 days.

I have been thinking for a while about shortening up the breeding period to eight weeks. If I am to be perfectly honest, when the eight weeks was up, I was making excuses why I needed to leave the bulls with the cows for longer - i.e. nowhere to put the bulls if I took them away, etc.

But, in reality, I suppose what was at the back of mind, is what happens if there is quite a few cows not in calf?

But I needn't have worried.

When I examined the scan results, and counted up the number of cows that were in calf less than 60 days, it meant that, if we had taken out the bulls at eight weeks, we would only have had eight more cows not in calf.

So, in theory at least, if we brought in 10 extra heifers into the herd, we could operate on an eight-week breeding period whilst maintaining our numbers.

But, like all things, we need to make sure that all our ducks are in a row for that to work, i.e. the bulls need to be in tip-top condition for service and the herd health needs to be right.

As for herd health, we had an issue with a virus in one group of calves around the turn of the year.

Our vet took blood samples and nasal swabs from a cross-section of stock on the farm.

So we will sit down with our vet in the next few weeks and see if there is anything we need to tweak or change in our vaccination programme.

All the winter barley got 4cwt/ac of a compound fertiliser 10.5.25 plus sulphur.

The crops have all held their colour and are looking well at the moment.

Tillage work is at a complete standstill at the moment. We spread farmyard manure on some of the stubbles in the dry weather. That still has to be ploughed down.

On the last dry day, we ploughed a field of ley to sow oats in and that still has to be sowed, too.

For the last number of years, we would have taken a small early cut of silage around May 20, specifically to feed to the cattle we were fattening.

Then, 10 days later, the main first cut, for the suckler cows, would be taken.

But, I suppose the fact that we tended to close up for the main cut 7-10 days later meant that both cuts of silage had virtually the same growing period.

So the gap in quality had been closing every year and last year they were virtually the same, 77.9 DMD compared 77 DMD.

So I think we will take one first cut this year.

When we are planning our winter feed, we would usually calculate the tonnage required for 140 days, and hope to get out at 120 days. I always feel it is essential to have a bit of wriggle room.

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


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