We have been poring over our weight gain figures and the take-away message is to continue to identify the best-performing heifers to keep as replacements
We did our TB test and scanned all the cows and heifers in one busy week — and, thankfully, it was all good news on both fronts.
The TB test was clear, and 94pc of the cows and heifers were in calf — and80pc of them are due in the first 30 days of the calving season.
It has become clear to us that the calves born at the beginning of the season do better financially than the later calves.
In our 16-month bull system, the earlier calves — ie, the bulls that are slaughtered before Christmas — will eat on average 300-400kg of meal less than the later calves. Also, the later calves tend to be lighter carcase weights.
The later-born calves eat more meal because all the calves come in at the one time; it would be far more complicated to stagger their housing because we would have different groups on different levels of feed at the one time.
We used to turn the stock bulls out to the heifers on October 10 and then to the cows on October 20. But, for the last few years, we brought the cows forward to October 10 as well.
Since we calve outside, we didn’t see any real advantage in calving the heifers in advance of the cows. In fact, we have found that starting them off at the same time helps to settle the heifers.
We end the breeding season between Christmas and New Year. We are slightly reluctant to remove the bulls any earlier, because if there was any glitch with a bull or any health issues with the cows, there would be a real danger of ending up with a disappointing scan.
In one group of 25 home-bred cows, four were scanned with twins. They had been running with a new bull. In total, 10 cows were scanned with twins.
Generally, twins work out well for us. The cows carrying twins need a little pampering both before and after calving. But it’s well worth the effort.
The one thing we find is crucial with twins is that, when calving is imminent, we put the cow into a calving pen, because there is a high chance the second calf might need assistance: a significant percentage are in a breach position.
We don’t usually turn out stock before the end of February but have done so this year.
Ground conditions have been super and we are getting excellent graze-outs on the silage fields.
Because of the recent cold conditions, we introduced a little bit of silage outside to the cows, but they have little interest in it. They look content and the calves appear to be thriving well.
However, we are not getting carried away. We know there could still be plenty of winter in front of us. But that’s OK. If they have to come back in, we have silage in the pits.
As we turned out the cows and calves, they were all weighed. A crude analysis of the bull calves shows us that the calves born before August 31 had an average weight of 268kg, with a range of 187-343kg, with an average daily gain from birth of 0.75-1.45kg.
The average daily gain from birth across the whole group is 1.2kg.
Looking at the figures in a bit more detail, I noticed that nine calves in the group grew at less than 1kg/day. There are probably three reasons for that: some belonged to cows that we culled and fattened so they were weaned at Christmas; some had struggled with health issues; and the remainder were half twins.
But it is heartening to think that if we can keep the better calves on the same growth trajectory, they have the potential to double their weight during the grazing season, on grass only.
The grazing season for all the bulls will finish on September 1, when hopefully the better performers will be averaging north of 500kg.
The bull calves born between September and the end of the calving season in mid-October came in at an average of 213kg, with a range of 187-315kg. Daily gain ranged from 0.9kg-1.6kg, with an average of 1kg.
There is a similar trend in the heifer calves, though the weights are obviously lighter.
The take-away message is to continue to identify the best-performing heifers and, if any are suitable, keep them as replacements in the herd.
Hopefully, that will continue to lift the average performance of the herd.
Maybe the real lesson here is that we want to lift the floor, rather than raise the ceiling.
Robin Talbot farms in Ballacolla, Co Laois, in partnership with his mother Pam and wife Ann