Wednesday 22 October 2014

I relished wiping the cobwebs from the calving jack

Published 10/10/2012 | 06:00

You know the calving is going well when you have to wipe the cobwebs off the calving jack -- a moment I relished briefly last week.

It has been one of the easiest calving seasons we've ever had. And the policy of feeding last thing in the evening seems to have worked particularly well this year, with more than 90pc of the calves born during daylight hours.

One thing that is particularly noticeable this year is that calves are being born with a lot of vigour and most of them are up on their feet and sucking very quickly. I wonder whether this is a knock-on effect from a poor grazing season where the cows would have been a little bit leaner coming into calving.

But a curious trend is the very high percentage of heifer calves being born. Of the last 38 calves registered, there were only seven bulls. This was also evident last year but not to the same extent when we had 30pc more heifers. Looking back on records, it was always close to a 50/50 split.

We noticed that one group of young cows who, although in all other respects looked to be healthy, were actually losing some body condition. So our vet came out and took some blood and faeces samples. The results showed high levels of stomach fluke. So we dosed all the cows with Zanil.

The stock bulls got their second annual hoof trimming last week and they also got their booster vaccine for Lepto. So hopefully they are ready for action and rearing to go. D-Day for their release is October 20.

One of the biggest influences on farm income is the percentage of cows scanned in calf. We are always trying to think of new ways to raise that figure. While we always rotate the bulls this year I am planning to do something slightly different with one group of cows to see if it will make any difference. I hope to use two bulls on a week-on-week-off basis, with the bull that is off being totally rested.

We are starting to plan the housing of some bulls and heifers that we intend to finish as beef. It is very important that these animals are kept thriving and it makes no sense to allow them to lose weight that was put on relatively cheaply at grass. The consequences of weight loss now is that you have to put it back on again using very expensive feed in the shed.

We got our silage results back and they were mixed. Our first-cut silage from the middle of May, and which will be going to the fattening cattle, is probably the best silage we've made, whereas the silage we cut in early June is, without doubt, the worst, with a very high pH. Our second cut in August was somewhere in the middle and will make acceptable feed.

It's that time of year again when we start to think about closing fields to have early grass in the spring. Its always important when closing fields to close the driest, most sheltered fields on the farm because this gives us the best chance of getting out early with some stock.

I am looking forward to going to the Teagasc and ICBF suckler cow breeding conference in Tullamore on Thursday.

I came across a piece in a book on farming where it says, "the first great means of affecting an increase in income from livestock is to diffuse among the people correct notions on the subject of breeding." Given that line was written in 1881, it's clear some things never change.

I look forward to the day that we can buy our replacement on known genetic merit. We have our replacements put together for this year. I'd be very happy with their quality, but we have no guarantee that they will be any better than the cows they are replacing. To move the suckler industry forward, we need to be able to know that our replacements are genetically superior to our culls.

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

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