Two-thirds of cows calved in just 32 days in Derrypatrick Herd at Grange
Recent mild weather, a welcome change for all parts, facilitated a considerable improvement in ground conditions throughout the country. Although Derrypatrick was no exception soil temperatures still remain low, averaging 3.2°C 5cm down over the past 10 days.
For this reason, we have delayed the first application of nitrogen across the farm. Despite this, we have turned out livestock to pasture in order to set up the grazing platform for the year by grazing out any grass that was carried over the winter. At present, we have turned out all the yearling progeny (heifers, bulls, and steers), and approximately 30 cows and calves. Cold conditions at night hindered our ability to turn out some of the younger calves, but these will be turned out too once they are strong enough and have bonded sufficiently.
The calving season is also fully underway. We have 63pc of the herd calved down within the first 32 days of the calving season. By compacting the calving pattern earlier in the season, we hope to increase the number of cows returning to normal cycling before the onset of the breeding season. This is essential for a seasonally-calving suckler system trying to capitalise on grazed grass.
In addition, earlier born calves are heavier at weaning and slaughter, increasing output from the farm. The challenge is to balance calving date with the start of the grass grazing season, as space for housing cows and calves post-calving can be limited and the cost of indoor feeding is greater than grazed grass.
So the aim is to match calving date with expected turnout date as much as possible. This alleviates housing pressures and reduces feed costs but it can only happen if soil conditions and grass growth are adequate.
The turnout date at Derrypatrick might seem early, especially given it is located in the northern half of the country.
But the objective must be early turnout regardless of location to maximise the amount of grass that makes up the annual feed budget. Obviously, grass supply and ground conditions have to be taken into account, but increasing grazed grass is a sure way to reduce production costs.
At present, pre-calved cows are being offered 60DMD silage ad-lib plus 0.5kg of concentrate per head per day. When mentioning this diet to visitors, we are questioned about pre-calving dietary options, such as the inclusion of straw to reduce birth weights and incidences of calving difficulty. However, the correct dietary formulation is dependent on body condition post housing. In other words, energy intake can be restricted for cows in good condition or if the quality of winter feed is very high.