Farm Ireland

Thursday 19 April 2018

As winter sets in we want more better priced calves to improve performance

Robin Talbot

The winter seems to have come in overnight. All cows and calves are now in their winter quarters and they seem to have settled in very quickly to the routine. The cows and calves are getting a diet of grass silage, maize silage, soya and straw.

Separately from that, the calves are being fed 1-2kg of a ration, depending on sex and breed. This ration is made up of maize meal, citrus pulp, soya, rolled barley and molasses with a mineral supplement. We make this ration up ourselves in the feeder wagon, at a cost of €220/t. So it is costing 20-40c/hd/day, again depending on sex and breed.


Including bedding I estimate it is costing us €2.05/day/cow, with the calf in addition to that. So it costs us about €330 to keep a cow and calf for a 140-day winter. The cows will be treated for fluke, worms and lice in the next few weeks.

In terms of the progress of the breeding season, we carry a clipboard on the tractor with the feeder wagon so that we can record the jumbo tags of any of the cows we see bulling. So far we have, thankfully, seen very few repeats.

We have also housed the remainder of the weanling heifers and they've been sorted and penned according to weight and breed. These were born in August/September last year. The Belgian Blue heifers averaged 480kg at housing and the Limousins 440kg. Our plan with these would be to grow them at about 0.6kg/day over the winter and turn them out early to grass in the spring with a view to finishing them around July/August. These will also be treated for fluke, worms and lice.

We have approximately 16 cows that are being culled off but are still rearing calves. We went through these a few weeks ago and picked out 11 that were getting close to factory-fit.

So we housed them at that stage and started to feed them, with a view to slaughtering them in the next few weeks. We introduced a creep area for their calves, which are about three months old. They took to this very well and are eating quite a bit of meal at this stage, so I will have no worries about weaning them. The remaining cull cows will be turned out to grass in the spring and will be sold after weaning.

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With our weanling bulls sold, the time has come to look back on their performance. The overall average was €920/hd, with a range in prices from €1,264 down to €350 for a calf born with a crooked leg. The average for the Belgian Blues was €985, while the average for the Limousins was €850. The 10 best Belgian Blue bulls averaged €1,195.


There is a fair bit of room for improvement in the overall performance. While it's hard to see the better calves making much more, what we need to do is to have a lot more of them. And a lot fewer of the lower priced ones!

Looking forward to next year, all the pastures have been closed up, with the exception of the couple of fields where the bulling heifers are grazing -- and will be for some time yet. We also have 28 December-calving cows still at pasture which will be coming in over the next couple of weeks.

While we have moved over totally to autumn calving , these are the result of a hiccup with a bull last breeding season. My original thought was to fatten these cows but, when I actually looked at them, there were too many good young Continental cows and financially we would take too big a hit on them. So we decided to breed them for another season. We hope to replace them next year.

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

Irish Independent