Farm Ireland

Friday 20 January 2017

Effects of our mystery virus on cow conception rates remain to be seen

Published 09/01/2013 | 06:00

Our annual pre-Christmas letter duly arrived from the DVO informing us that our TB herd test must be completed before the end of February.

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Just by sheer coincidence, one of the stories in the farming press that week was about how the Minister of Agriculture, Simon Coveney, had announced a series of changes in the TB eradication scheme. It is envisaged that these changes will lead to significant savings in direct costs and staffing resources in the department.

I wish when the minister was reviewing the scheme that he would also have looked inside the farm gate. I think of our own particular situation, which is replicated around the country.

We are going to have to test beef heifers and bulls, some of which will be within weeks of slaughter, where they will face the ultimate post-mortem test.

Over the years we have had our share of TB reactors, but trawling back through our records I cannot find any case of where an animal under 24 months showed up as a reactor when that was the only reactor in the herd.

I strongly believe there is an overwhelming case for exempting animals under a certain age from being routinely tested.

The scheme has been running for 63 years; surely the time has come for a radical overhaul.

I feel this would be best undertaken by the Minister appointing a small group of experts in the field, led by someone with no vested interest.

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Meanwhile, let's hope 2013 will be a good year for us all.

Mind you, it hasn't got off to the best possible start; the past month has been extremely difficult, with an as-of-yet unidentified virus in the calves.


We saw the first warning sign in early December, when all the calves were obviously not thriving. Seamus, our vet, came out and looked at them and agreed there was something afoot.

So he took nasal swabs from some calves and sent them to the lab for analysis.

The amount of time it took for a result to come back was very frustrating. When we did get the results, they were inconclusive.

In the meantime, we took blood samples from a cross-section of cows and sent them off for analysis. At the time of writing we have no results on those.

We had a lot of coughing, their breathing was obviously stressed if they were moving around at all and, for a while, they went off their food.

We were injecting up to 20 calves a day with Selectan. In general, they have responded to treatment. An added worry is, if there is an unidentified virus hanging around the sheds, whether it would have any impact on conception rates with the cows.

With this is mind, and the fact that the cows were changed over this week to poor-quality silage, we have decided to scan one group of cows in mid-January.

This will tell us how many cows went in calf in the first six weeks of the breeding season and, depending on what results we get, we will then make a decision on when to remove the stock bulls.

We have always operated a strict compact calving pattern, but we need to be practical in this instance and the first priority has to be to ensure that the cows are in calf. A later calf is much better than no calf. If, of course, the cows scan well, we will have no hesitation in removing the bulls at the usual time.

We weighed our fattening heifers during the week and they have been achieving an average daily gain of 1.2kg/hd.

When working out average daily gains, we feel its important to include all animals in the group.

Even though the heifers are weighted individually, we add up the weights, then subtract the total from the total at the previous weighing, divide this by the number of animals in the group and divide this by the number of days since the last weighting.


We were pleasantly surprised how forward some of these heifers are.

We would be hoping to finish up with an average carcase weight of around 360kg so, on an average of say 58pc kill-out, we are looking at finishing them at around 620-630kg liveweight.

We know from previous years that, when we put the heifers on their final finishing diet, they will do in the region of 1.4kg per day, so we need to decide shortly if we can shorten the final finishing push (which costs more per day) without affecting carcase weight by leaving them on their present diet for a little bit longer.

One slurry tank is filling fast and we will soon need to do something about it.

Unless ground conditions improve radically, I would be reluctant to spread it on the land, so this may involve transferring some slurry into another tank, but I feel the expense of this can be justified insofar as, we all know, spreading slurry is as much about maximum uptake of the nutrients as it is about emptying tanks.

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

Indo Farming