Farm Ireland

Monday 20 November 2017

Farewell to the fertile, lucky and docile bull Benjy

Robin Talbot's Belgian Blue bull Benjy
Robin Talbot's Belgian Blue bull Benjy

Robin Talbot

One person's meat is another's poison.

Over the festive season, I don't know how many people we met who said something along the lines of "gosh, its absolutely beautiful weather for the time of the year." All I kept thinking is that: "It's horrendous weather for the time of year."

Simply because the temperature was too high and there was very little wind. So inevitability, even the most open of cattle sheds were clammy and stuffy, which is the ideal breeding ground for nasty bugs.

In the few days running up to Christmas, the inevitable happened. Calves in one shed went off their food and started to cough and, even with treatment, we lost four of them.

We took one of them to the lab and the initial results showed up a bacterial infection. Tests are ongoing to identify the particular strain.

Under veterinary advice, we then treated all the rest of the group with an antibiotic.

We also took blood samples and swabs from a sample of the group that had high temperatures. But they seem to be over it now and are back on their grub.

Depending on the results, we will have to revisit our vaccine programme to see if there is something we need to be doing differently.

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One thing that came into my mind when we were injecting the calves is that I think we need to look at building a smaller cattle race specifically for handling calves of 100-200kg.

We injected them in the standard cattle crush and it was hard going. The calves were too small for the crush, so they could turn around at will and definitely too big to catch.

Something I realised is that we had no problem in the calves that have access to the field 24/7. So, just looking around the yard, I saw that by making just a few small modifications, i.e changing around the way a few gates hang and relocating a couple of field gates, about 60pc of our calves could have ready access to the outdoors.

That is now on our to-do list for 2017.

Another thing we have been doing to minimise the risk of infection is to clean out the straw-bedded sheds every 10 days or so.

The sale of our under-16 month bulls are continuing, with only a few left. Weights and fat scores have held up well so we will do the final calculations when they are all gone.

We removed the bulls from the heifers in early December so hopefully we will get them scanned this week.

These heifers have only been put in the shed in the last few days. We had been giving them round-bale silage on an outfarm and they are absolutely shining.

So I suppose, looking on the positive, the mild dry weather wasn't all bad!

We removed the bulls from the main herd of cows this past week. I would like to have taken them out a week earlier but it's a little bit of a juggling act at the moment because we needed to sell a few more young bulls to make room in the slats so that the stock bulls could have an individual pen each.

In an ideal situation we would have purpose-built housing for the bulls but, since we really only need it for a couple of weeks, it wouldn't make much sense. When we scan the heifers we will be able to put a stock bull into a pen with each pen of in-calf heifers.

While we would always run the bulls together in the field during the summer I wouldn't dream of putting them together in the one shed.

Removing the bulls this year, I have to say I felt a tinge of sadness. One bull, that we call Benjy (pictured), I'm afraid to say has come to the end of his working life.

He is a Belgian Blue bull

that we bought as a yearling from a neighbour Anthony Coffey.

Benjy has worked for eight seasons. He has always been lucky, docile and fertile, which, in my opinion, are the three main attributes that you need in a stock bull.

He has also always produced excellent calves and was easy calving. I looked him up on the ICBF BullSearch and he has a terminal index of €169, with reliability of 85pc.

Benjy will be hard to replace.

I got a copy of our Nutrient Management Plan just before Christmas.

It obviously identifies some fields that would benefit from slurry and farmyard manure more than others. The fact that the maps are colour-coded makes it very obvious which fields we need to target first for slurry.

So our plan is to get slurry on those fields this year rather than what we had been doing, going to the closest fields first … and so on.

As soon as conditions are suitable, hopefully we will be able to get a bit of urea out on some of the grazing and silage ground.

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

Indo Farming