Farm Ireland

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Advantage of 10-week calving shines through

Robin Talbot

We have been calving for eight weeks now and 85pc of the herd is calved. Our calving usually lasts for 10 weeks but this year it will run a further two weeks.

This is because when the time came to remove the bulls from the cows last January, the yard was covered with packed snow, making it extremely slippery, and I didn't want to risk letting any of the stock bulls out on the yard in case they would injure themselves.

But even though the bulls were with the cows two weeks longer, they only picked up an extra four cows. So we will definitely stick to our 10 weeks this time around, weather permitting of course.

Calving has continued to be relatively trouble free, with losses running at under 2pc. We also had a calf that got an infection in his throat when he was about one month old. Unfortunately, he didn't respond to treatment and died.

The calves at pasture seem to be thriving well, although this past week we had to treat a couple of calves in one particular group for blood scour. Thankfully they responded well to treatment. When the first calf was sick, the group he was with proved hard to get in, but what we always do this time of the year, when cows and calves are being collected, is to put a bit of meal in a trough in the yard, which makes it easier to round them up on subsequent occasions.

The cows are currently grazing extremely heavy covers of grass. I had forgotten just how productive new pastures can be. One paddock that was re-seeded in the spring has been grazed a few times and has already produced a lot more grass in a few months than the old pasture would in the whole year. Incidentally, I noticed that when we move the cows from the new pasture on to the older pasture, it takes a little while for them to settle -- obviously 'the younger the chicken the sweeter the pickin' applies to grass as well.

Our autumn 2008 beef heifers have been getting meals at grass since early July and sales of these are ongoing. They are currently averaging just over 360kg carcass.

Something I have given a lot of thought to over the years is our replacement heifer policy. We have always bought our replacements in the mart and I think it has worked quite well for us. One of the potential risks of buying in replacements is that you would bring in some disease. But we have never found this to be an issue. Of course, you have to be sensible and obviously adhere to some basic rules -- the bedrock of which is to quarantine the animals on arrival and for some time thereafter.

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However, popular opinion seems to be that we would be better off breeding our own replacements. In theory, our heifers would seem very suitable from a quality point of view, but I would be afraid that we could breed ourselves into a herd with poor docility. As Brian O'Driscoll once said, common sense tells you that a tomato is a fruit but experience tells you not to put it in a fruit salad.

If a heifer seems wild in the ring, we just don't bid on her.

In general, I consider our bought-in heifers quite easy to handle, with the odd exception. Any heifer that calves down and shows herself to be hard to handle is culled off. This is usually no more than two or three heifers a year.

This year, to finally answer the debate over breeding versus buying, we have kept some of our own replacements as well as buying in others. Time will tell.

Robin Talbot farms in partnership with his wife Ann and mother Pam at Ballacolla, Co Laois.

Irish Independent