Farm Ireland

Saturday 18 August 2018

Keep a close eye on newborns in case of a chill


A young calf is the most vulnerable on the farm
A young calf is the most vulnerable on the farm
John Joyce

John Joyce

The recent snow storm has brought everything to a standstill. With the weather having been reasonably dry the week before Storm Emma, we spread another 80,000 gallons of slurry on the silage ground on the home farm at 2,000 gallons per acre. All tanks have been lowered to levels that should see out the winter comfortably even if it is prolonged with bad weather in late spring.

I like to get large amounts of slurry out at this time of year as it seems to give great results, especially when applied to bare ground, and it even works better when a small amount of fertiliser is applied once the slurry is washed in.

Calving is now in its second week with everything going to plan. Calves are healthy and lively and the cows have an adequate milk supply. The first of the calves may have looked a bit small, but have filled out well in a week.

A farmer once said to me "there was more potential in a live mouse than a dead elephant''. No cow has acquired assistance yet, the calving gate and jack can be called into action if needed. These two pieces of equipment have been worth their weight in gold for me over the years.


All the calves are observed after calving to see if they can get their own drink. If they don't, I feed some defrosted colostrum that I have frozen in reserve in case of a weak calf or a set of twins. This milk is supplied to me by a neighbouring dairy farmer and can be very handy with a late night calving. The one luxury I don't have is a calving camera.

The farm house is within walking distance of the sheds so it is easy to have a look now and again. On saying that, it would be handy to have a look at them on the iphone even during the day if I was working away from the farm yard.

The cows and calves remain in the shed on straw until the calf is about two weeks old or the weather is suitable for turnout.

Also Read

Before turnout, the calves will be tagged and debudded. They are then let loose on a bare four-acre field beside the sheds with a wooded area in the corner. If there is a problem with a cow or calf they can be easily returned to the shed from this field.

They have access to round bales of silage and a hi-mag mineral in the form of a bucket lick. The cows will remain in this field until the calf is fully able to drink the extra milk from the cow when she goes to grass.

Another aspect I also observe at calving is the temperament of the cows and especially the new heifers at calving. I have zero tolerance for mad cows or wild cattle on the farm.

The cows at the moment are on ad lib silage and dry cow minerals, and will remain on this diet unless calves get very big or soft.

If so, I might restrict the silage. With this extreme cold weather, I am paying extra attention to the newborn calves in case they get a chill. Sometimes once they are calved and have the first drink we can take the eye off the ball. They can look nice and snug sleeping in their straw bed, but it's always a good idea to rise them and see will they stretch and suckle their mother. With the poor conditions, turnout won't be for a while yet. Some of the land we are farming is a bit fragmented and there needs to be enough grass ahead of them in order to ensure they are only transported the once.

The lambing is progressing well but it hasn't helped that the busiest week has also coincided with the 'Beast from the East'.

We have been unable to let out young lambs so this has really backed up the sheds and has greatly increased the workload. With grass a little on the scarce side, ewes are receiving around half a kilogram per day and also have access to hi-mag minerals.

John Joyce farms at Carrigahorig, Nenagh, Co Tipperary

Indo Farming

Get the latest news from the FarmIreland team 3 times a week.

More in Beef