Farm Ireland

Wednesday 22 November 2017

A reduction in our vet bills was the big freeze's silver lining

Oliver McDonnell
Oliver McDonnell

Oliver McDonnell

All I can say is thank God that the freezing conditions, accompanied by so much snow and ice, have finally disappeared.

Over a period of a week or two it wasn't really a problem. We just dealt with the inconvenience of frozen pipes and frozen water troughs in all the cattle sheds. But by week three these inconveniences became very tedious indeed, and were taking up most of the day to sort out.

There was one whole weekend of sub-zero temperatures when we simply couldn't get the water going at all. Finally, after checking all the pipes and troughs, we lifted the water pump and discovered that the fault lay there. The foot valve needed replacing. This was duly done but still no water flowed.

We then simply didn't know where to start looking again for the problem. The water was almost freezing behind us as we moved forward. Since the weather forecast was better we decided to wait one more day for the thaw and solve our problems in that way. And, sure enough, that is what happened. Cattle eagerly queued for a drink after three days without water. They were OK but had begun to bawl in protest. We had been throwing snow and ice on top of the silage so they could have a lick, which seemed to keep them reasonably satisfied. During this time, however, feed intake slowed down, in part due to their desperate thirst.

The automatic scrapers on the out-farm also gave considerable trouble as it worked inside the shed, but the residue pushed outside to the reception tank froze almost as quickly as we removed surplus frozen slurry with the loader. We never think of such things happening but it certainly presented a challenge in a morning.

The silver lining to the past four weeks of freezing weather is that is was also very healthy weather for housed animals. Vets' bills have never been lower for the time of year as we've not had to endure the scourge of pneumonia among the calves and weanlings. This time of year is always high risk for diseases, such as pneumonia, and respiratory infections as the number of calves born rises and the length of time the calf units are occupied also increases. Calf births started here last September so we are into the fifth month of pen occupation.

Cows continue to milk well and we are meeting targets. The autumn herd is steadily coming into heat and is currently being served with AI. This began in the last week of November and will continue for another few weeks. AI will then be used selectively on any repeat service but, thankfully, conception rates so far are great.

A group of heifers targeted for the autumn herd have also been segregated. These, too will be served with AI over the next couple of weeks and then the Aberdeen Angus bull will join them. The plan is to have all of this group calving down during October and November. Our main reason for using AI in the herd is to introduce new bloodlines. We are also a bull down since one fell recently and had to be dispatched to the factory.

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Calving so far this season has been very tidy and compact. The lads exercised some control over the calving pattern and planned the number of cows they wanted to calve each month. This has so far gone to plan. They now intend to continue practising this method but, having said this, flexibility is also part of the scheme.

Time and again we debate the viability of staying in winter milk production. It is a high-cost system for which we have not been paid adequately for some time. However, the time for planning for next season is now upon us and we will stay with the system for another year. We just keep telling ourselves that the situation can only improve.

It would seem now that only three countries within the EU will meet their quota allocations this year. This is surely a telling indictment on the EU approach -- or lack of approach -- to dairy farming. It shows the loss of confidence in dairying and should send a strong message to our bureaucrats that the price paid for milk requires urgent attention. A loss-making business cannot, and will not, be tolerated in the long term.

The lads recently sold a group of Angus heifers. This new grading system was applied and favoured the quality of the animals and gave them the best price on offer on the day. However, the best price on offer was still too low, and this goes back to the base price being far too low. We got the same price 20 years ago for beef heifers in the old currency. A batch of cull cows has now been dispatched to the factory in recent days. It will be interesting to see how they perform.

Irish Independent