Farm Ireland

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Herd test is always stressful regardless of the final results

Robin Talbot

WE SCANNED our heifers last week. While there were a few more empty than I would have liked, we were happy with the results - 92pc of them were in calf and 82pc of them are due to calve in the first 30 days.

The scan showed that some of the heifers that weren't in calf were half-twins, which is, I suppose, an occupational hazard when you buy in replacements.

But one thing I was delighted with is that the scan showed that none of them were in calf before they came. That is always a nightmare. You don't know what they are in calf to and they will also calve outside our designated calving period.

The empty heifers were separated from those in calf and are now going to be fattened.

This week will finish the sales of our under-16-month bulls. I have to say that they went fairly well for us, except, of course, for the price.

The first of our beef heifers, that are the cohorts of the above bulls, will be starting to go to the factory this week. These heifers are coming fit a lot quicker than I anticipated, since we had them on what we would refer to as a growing diet. But it just goes to show the value of good-quality silage. These heifers have been eating 21kg per head per day of 77 DMD silage plus 5.5kg of a barley/oats/molasses mix.

Now that the bulls are gone, we will move them onto a

finishing diet and, by the look of a lot of them, 40.50 days will bring them close to a finish.

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There is a temptation to leave them on the growing diet but I just have a little concern about our silage stocks. By increasing the amount of ration, we can dramatically decrease the amount of silage they are getting.

We will also reduce the amount of silage that the suckler cows are getting by increasing their intake of straw and grain. I am confident that we have enough silage in the yard to see us out to grass but I donft want to run it out and get ourselves into the situation where a lot of stock have to be turned out regardless of the weather.

We probably never had as much grass on the farm at this time of the year.

A while back, we spread urea on any field that was re-seeded in the last two years and, with reference to our Nutrient Management Plan, we took advantage of some of the dry weather in January and spread a lot of slurry on grazing land on an out-farm.

One of my least favourite tasks on the farm - I put it right up there with picking stones - is our annual herd test, which we are doing this week.

It's always really stressful; and thatfs regardless of the result of the test.

It's very difficult when you are trying to put stock of two different sizes up the cattle crush, i.e. cows and calves. When the test is over, we will hopefully scan all the cows; and, weather permitting, we will be able to start turning out a few in early March.

We always turn them out in a certain order. Cows in calf with the best bull calves will go out first. So obviously the best calves will have the best performance on grass so the longer we can make their grazing season, the better.

Next out will be the cows scanned not in calf, with their calves. The reason we turn them out at that stage is that we wean them earlier, when the calves are well settled and have the cows fat for May and June, which is traditionally the best time to sell a beef cow.

Then we start turning out the rest of them, with the in-calf heifers the last to go out. I know itfs not best practice but, at turnout, we will set the stock, cows and calves, in small groups.

Hopefully, as the weeks go on, we will join up the groups and then end up with 50 cows and calves per group grazing a rotation of 7.8 paddocks.

Unlike dairy stock, suckler cows and calves tend to do a lot of walking after they are turned out, especially if ground and weather conditions are less than ideal. A large group of cows and calves could wipe out a paddock on one wet night.

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

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