June calving may not be advised, but it can work
Published 22/02/2011 | 05:00
Conventional wisdom is that suckler cows should be calved in the spring and the earlier the better. There is also an argument for autumn calving if you have the facilities.
Yet one of the more interesting suckler farms I encountered in the past few years plans the calving for June. June calving may go against Teagasc advice, but it works for this farmer. He didn't wish to be named, but will freely discuss his system, both the theory and the practice.
The theory is that calving in June leads to best use of grass and that cows will need no meals.
In practice, most of the calves are born in June with a few stragglers arriving in July and August. Cows are back in calf before being housed for the winter in November. During the autumn, cows have access to straw and hay and this seems to keep grass tetany at bay.
Once housed, the cows get silage only. Calves are offered about 1.5kg of meals per hd/day, plus they have access to paddocks around the yard. In practice, some of the calves were gone out to grass before the meals arrived and, if anything, these throve the best over the past month.
Now comes the key to the success of this system. Once February comes (conditions allowing), the calves are weaned and put out to the grass paddocks permanently. This includes both bulls and heifers, each with their own rotation of fields or paddocks.
The theory is that when grass quality is at its peak, it should be grazed by the animals that give the best return. In practice, the bulls and heifers put on phenomenal weight gain on spring grass. All calves are by Charolais bulls and last year heifers weighed from 450kg to 550kg as yearlings sold in marts. Bulls, sold ex farm in one lot, at about 13 months average just under 600kg. The attraction of this system is the low outlay on meals. Meals are confined to the 1.5kg/hd per day over the three-month winter plus some meals at grass to the bulls prior to sale.
Meanwhile, the cows are just maintained in shed with no rush to turn them out. The cows are stocked tightly at grass, making sure that grazing area is reduced as the calved cows are removed. At calving, the cows are lean and fit.