Robin Talbot: Cows are eating grass at an alarming rate!


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Robin Talbot

I left the IFA county executive meeting in Portlaoise last week with the strong feeling that there was no-one at the highest level in politics batting for the beef sector.

The meeting was addressed by the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and it seemed obvious to me from his answers to questions from the floor that he is not going to take any action to put supports in place to save the suckler cow.

We managed to cut some silage in the middle of September. I would reckon that we collected up close to another month's feed.

At that stage, I felt that, while it would be tight, we would be okay for winter feed.

But my opinion has since changed dramatically.

The main reason for this is that although we have had lots of high-quality grass, unfortunately the cows are eating it out at an alarming rate. They are going through paddocks up to two days faster than I would have expected.

On the positive side, there is excellent utilisation and the paddocks have been cleaned out completely. So, hopefully, they are set up nicely for an early bite in the spring.

The upshot of it is that we are going to run out of grass two weeks earlier than I expected.

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But, if the ground conditions remain good, we will try to keep the cows out as long as possible by giving them bales of silage. Certainly, if we start to use pit silage before the end of November, we will come up short in the spring.

The under-16-month bulls are in the shed almost six weeks now.

Frankly, their performance has been disappointing.

We weighed them last week and, while we knew they were behind target liveweight coming in, I thought they might kick on and make up some ground.

But, at best, some of them have only held their performance while others have actually dropped in performance.

So we have changed the diet.

They all appear to be healthy and happy so I am pretty happy that there is no underlying health issue.

We have sent all our cereals to be tested for quality and I expect the results back this week. I have a feeling that the feed value of the oats might be poor.

We have introduced some flaked maize into the diet and it seems to be helping.

So we are going to have to talk to our beef factory to see what we might do. The thought of selling light bulls for a poor price is not an attractive proposition.

I suppose one option might be to slaughter the ones under 16 months that are closest to reaching their optimal performance; then feed on the better shaped bulls for a couple of months and hope for a price rise.

Last week, we gave the maiden heifers their Lepto and IBR booster shots and treated them with Pour-On.

We are planning to turn the Angus bulls out with these heifers this week, though it's hard to be enthusiastic about it this year.

One day, as I was walking through them, I thought they are a lovely bunch of heifers and wondered if there will be a suckler beef industry at all by the time they finish their breeding careers.

We will turn the bulls out to the cows on October 20.

Out of the blue, we had a calf come back as a potential PI. We immediately quarantined him and his mother from the rest of the stock.

They have to be blood-tested this week, to check that he is a PI and that it wasn't just transient infection. I think that he probably is a PI as he is not thriving at all.

We have some Angus heifers just ready to go to the factory. Normally we would slaughter these off grass without meal.

But, because of the fodder situation, we have been giving them a bit of barley, just to make sure that they will all be finished out of the field and in an attempt to spare some grass.

Most of the stubble ground has been ploughed and I don't think I ever remember the clay being as dry at this time of the year.

So a lot of winter cereal will be sowed into an ideal seed bed. Hopefully, that will give it a good start.

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

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