Farming

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All our animals are outside already

I don't think I can ever remember it happening before on this farm, but all animals going to grass were out on lush pastures a week before St Patrick's Day. And, although the weather has been very dry, you would notice stock putting a nice little toe-mark in the ground.

We have quite a bit of silage left so we won't need to cut as much first-cut silage this year. With that in mind I think we will probably plough some ley ground for extra spring barley.

Of course, the other option would be to disperse the cattle out over the extra ground and spread less fertiliser but I think this would be an unwise move since experience would tell us that you can't up your income while decreasing your output.

It will also give us an opportunity to do some more reseeding. At the moment we are grazing some new grass which was sowed last autumn and not grazed and I am amazed at just how much grass these paddocks have produced already.

In hindsight, we probably could have gone to grass a week earlier than we did but we held stock in to complete our TB herd test and to scan the cows.

We were very happy with the way the cows scanned this year. Between 6pc and 7pc scanned empty, with a few cows to be checked again. Although one issue did surface, one group of cows seems to be approximately 40 days behind the others, which suggests to me that there was an issue with one of the bulls. Although he did get some cows in the group in calf, it certainly vindicates our decision to rotate the bulls.

When we put all the scanning information onto the computer we can check to see if it was just a once-off or if there was an issue with every group of cows that this particular bull was running in.

When we scanned each group of 44 cows, typically 29-30 of them were in calf for 100-120 days, whereas there were only 12 in calf for 100-120 days in the group that looks to have slipped.

We went clear in our TB test which is the only good thing that I can say about the whole experience. It is always an extremely stressful time and it's made all the more difficult trying to test single-suckled calves because they are too big to physically hold and too small for the conventional cattle crush.

While testing one particular crush-full of calves where 40pc of the crush was empty and all the calves had started to pile up on one another with a lot of them facing opposite directions, I just thought, 'what a pointless exercise to be testing calves'.

The following day we were testing bulls and heifers that will be slaughtered in a few months' time and I thought to myself that this is an equally pointless exercise, considering that when these animals go for slaughter they will undergo a post-mortem test which is surely the ultimate test.

It was a few days that certainly focused my mind on the whole TB eradication scheme. Obviously, it has made tremendous progress but I think the time has come for a radical overhaul of the whole approach.

I honestly feel it can no longer be called an eradication scheme. It is a containment scheme. Because, as long as there is an infected wildlife reservoir of disease, it is never going to be eradicated in the cattle herd.

I was thinking that if I had to design a TB scheme, I would suggest that only animals over two years of age should be tested in the herd test. Obviously, with the proviso that a reactor was identified you would move in as soon as possible and test all the remaining animals. Also the status quo would of course remain for all movements other than for slaughter.

I think we need a scheme that's fit for purpose for the 21st century.

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

Indo Farming