Beef: Aroma of fresh silage signals the start of the winter season

A view over the packed cattle pens last week in Cillin Hill Mart Kilkenny. Photo: Roger Jones.
A view over the packed cattle pens last week in Cillin Hill Mart Kilkenny. Photo: Roger Jones.
John Joyce

John Joyce

The fresh smell of silage around the farmyard is a sure sign that the winter feeding season has begun. I am housing the stock bit by bit as they start to run out of grass.

The yearling males were housed last week and will be followed by their female comrades next week. The cows and calves have another two or three weeks of grass ahead of them.

There are still 12 beef animals out on good grass and about 4kgs of meal per head a day. They are a mixture of bullocks and heifers and should be factory fit in two weeks. It is getting a little difficult feeding them at the trough with the rain of the past two weeks.

They would only go back for a few weeks if they were housed. Maybe the beef trade will have improved a little in the meantime with the beginning of the Christmas trade.

The plan is to wean the calves in the same way as the last year, I will house the cows on one side of the shed and the calves on the other side.

For years on the farm we practised abrupt weaning of the calves. As we operate out of two farmyards, what usually happened was when the first wet week arrived in November, the cows and their calves were rounded up and split into two groups.

The cows would be housed on the home farm and the calves would travel on to the out farm. In fairness to the old Suckler Cow welfare scheme, it prompted our move to a new and less stressful approach to weanling the cow and calf.

It is less stressful for myself as well with hopefully fewer sick calves and less noise around the farmyard. The weanlings seem to be happy enough once they can see the cows and it appears to be working well. The weanlings will be started on 1kg of ration along with good quality round bale silage.

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After Christmas the meal will be increased to 2kgs for the rest of the winter. The cows will be feed on restricted silage till they are fully dried off. No dry cow tubes will be used. They will be fed round bale silage for the rest of the winter.

Herd test

The cows will be penned according to condition score and calving date, with the weanlings penned on weight and whether male or female.

I have the annual TB herd test booked for the first week on December so by having all the calves weaned and cattle penned evenly it makes the day run smoothly.

I find December a good month for the test as the cows are not still not too heavily pregnant, the stock will be all housed by then and under control and it is usually a quiet time of the year on the farm work wise.

I have tagged all of the animals that were selected for genotyping as part of the Beef Data and Genomics Programme, it turned out not to be as big a job as I had ordinarily thought.

I still think it is a pity that this system is totally focused on maternal breeding and maybe the values of the old Suckler system which I spoke of earlier will be lost.

Of course this system was totally welfare driven but in fairness it improved farmers ability to debud and wean calves to a higher standard.

John Joyce farms at Carrigahorig, Nenagh, Co Tipperary

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