independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Lame bulls forced us to reconsider AI as more than a needless additional job

I was wrong. I always felt that using AI was just a needless increase in the workload. However, issues with lame bulls in recent weeks forced us into using it, and we actually found it fitted in quite seamlessly.

One of the reasons it worked so well was that the AI technician Albert always arrived at exactly the time he said he would.

It will be interesting to see what our conception rates are like. We used Charolais straws where the Limousin bulls were and Limousin straws where the Belgian Blues were so it will be easy to identify which calves are by our own bulls and which are by AI.

If sexed semen was commercially available along with a cost-effective way of synchronising some of the cows, I think I could see AI having a future on this farm.

Incidentally, I was amazed how quick the lame bulls came back to full fitness after resting for a few days in a straw shed away from the cows.

One bull in particular that seemed to have injured a hind leg and was very lame had fully recovered within a week.

The fattening cattle seem to be thriving quite well. At the moment we estimate they are costing in the region of €2.10 a day to feed.

We will up their level of concentrates in January with a view to finishing the heifers within 80-90 days, the bulls a little longer. Obviously this will increase significantly the feed cost per day.

margins

I realised that feeding costs are considerably lower and margins are higher in Scotland during a recent trip there with 40 other farmers.

We visited some large-scale suckler farms which also had large tillage operations.

One thing that struck me was the sheer scale and standard of the sheds that the cattle were in.

All the sheds we saw had one thing in common – they were all built to an extremely high spec and all had elevated central passages for feeding and extensive lie-back areas which were liberally bedded with straw.

Unlike here, straw seems to have very little value judging by the thousands of bales that were visible in fields across the countryside. When the initial awe of the sheds subsided I have to say I was quite disappointed with the type of cattle in them.

They were mostly traditional breeds which would finish at quite low weights and would have the genetics to lay down fat quite quickly, to my mind. There seemed to be very little output per cow per year.

But the one thing that they all had in common, and it's where they have a major edge on us, is that they appeared to be dealing directly with supermarket chains and were getting paid far higher prices per kilo than we do. There seemed to be a particularly strong bond or loyalty to whichever particular chain they were supplying.

The farmers all made the point that there are times during the year when they would make more on the open market but over the turn of the year they felt that they did better with their long-term contracts.

I suppose they had the added bonus that their price wasn't influenced by supply levels or the prevailing weather conditions.

I came home thinking we are way ahead of them in things like grass utilisation and the amount of beef we are producing per cow but they have a far better way of marketing their produce and seem to end up with higher returns.

We have another week's supply of bad straw left. We won't be sorry to see the end of it, nor will the cattle.

SOAKAGE

This is straw that heated in the bales and when it is being used there is no soakage in it and I'm pretty sure there isn't a lot of warmth in it for the calves either.

I have to say they really have been looking rather miserable in recent weeks.

In an effort to try to keep them as comfortable as possible we have actually cleaned out the straw sheds three times since they came in.

So I am really looking forward to using the good straw and hopefully that will make the calves a lot happier too.

We have also put in some temporary creep areas which seem to be helping.

Indeed these have been working so well that we would intend to stick with them.

This being our last column of 2012, I don't want to let the year out without acknowledging how difficult it has been but farming has always had its ups and downs and hopefully next year will be a better one.

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

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