Farm Ireland

Saturday 26 May 2018

Compact calving targets leave no room for error

Gerry Dunne taking part in the ploughing match at the Knockbridge, Co Louth vintage day held on Sunday. Photo: David Conachy.
Gerry Dunne taking part in the ploughing match at the Knockbridge, Co Louth vintage day held on Sunday. Photo: David Conachy.

Robin Talbot

At this stage, it looks as though there will be close to 85pc of our cows calved within eight weeks. So I am definitely going to see, this coming season, if its possible to shorten our calving period to nine weeks.

I think its very possible but I suppose its like a lot of things in farming, it leaves no room for error.

Traditionally, we would bring in 20pc replacements every year. So, even if it means we have to bring in 25pc, I still think its very do-able.

Looking back at the cost of our replacements against the value of our cull cows, the average over three years shows a gap of €600/head in favour of the cull cows.

Typically, the cull cows would be making somewhere between €1,500-€1,600, with the majority of the replacement heifers coming in at €900-€1,000.

But there's two issues that are critical to those figures. One is that we buy our replacements as early as we can so we can keep down in the weight and down in the money; and the fact that we are autumn calving means we are selling our cull cows in May/early June, when they tend to be at their highest price per kg.

Also, the cull cows would be identified very early and would be grazed separately from the main herd. As a consequence to that, we also wean them early.

In selling our cull cows, carcase weight needs up to be up around 400kg on average and, as everyone knows, a healthy Continental cow will put on a lot of weight on April/May grass.

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We would always have vaccinated our cows pre-calving with something like Rotovac. Then, about four years ago, the vaccine just wasn't available from the manufacturers so we had no choice but not to vaccinate. We consequently saw no adverse effects from not vaccinating so, since then, we haven't vaccinated pre-calving.

Unfortunately, mid-way through calving, we had a few newborn calves that seemed to have problems standing up and getting their balance. But, funnily enough, it seemed only to be in the heifer's calves.

So the vet had to put down two calves, one of which I took to the lab in Kilkenny. This calf showed up with a brain infection and the recommendation was that we vaccinate our cows.

For the vaccine to be effective it has to be administered at least a month before calving so all the remaining cows that were a month out from calving have been vaccinated with Rotovac.

Thankfully, nearly all our heifers are now calved. But we will certainly be vaccinating next year.

We also had a few cows showing symptoms of milk fever that needed a bottle of Calcium intravenously. So, just to check that everything was as it should be, we got the vet to take two blood samples from ten cows, which were a mix of ages, from heifers right up to mature cows.

These animals had all calved in the previous three days. Seemingly the most accurate results are got from animals shortly after calving.

These samples were also sent to the lab for a full screening and we are eagerly awaiting the results. The grass seed that was sowed after winter barley is now almost ready to graze. It got its post emergence spray for weeds last week. Our only problem is that the only animals we have for grazing this time of year are heavy cows with young calves so hopefully the weather will hold up until we get one grazing off it.

We have finished spreading fertiliser on grass. There was a few fields that had quite a bit of grass on them but, because of the closing date for spreading fertiliser, we blanket spread them because they hadn't got fertiliser for a long time and I don't want to run out of grass for October.

The beef bulls are in the shed and seem to be doing nicely. At the moment, we are building them up on concentrates.

Of course, I made a mistake last week and I introduced some wheat into their diet but the wheat was too fresh and it scoured them a little bit. So I am omitting wheat for the next two weeks. At that stage it will be cut over a month and then it will be OK to feed.

At this stage, it looks like their diet will be made up of Maxammon-treated wheat, barley and oats, some silage, straw, molasses and a mineral.

When you are trying to do them under 16-months, for some reason, the last couple of months seem to go very fast, so hopefully we are on target to get a decent weight and good fat cover.

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

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