Robin Talbot: Home-grown feed doing the job for our bulls

Robin Talbot pictured on the family farm in Ballacolla, Co Laois is a lifelong suckler farmer. Photo: Alf Harvey
Robin Talbot pictured on the family farm in Ballacolla, Co Laois is a lifelong suckler farmer. Photo: Alf Harvey

Robin Talbot

All cows and calves are now housed, and we have settled in nicely to our winter feeding routine.

This year, we have changed our system of feeding the calves.

Previously, we bought a calf ration and fed it in troughs every day. This was also a handy way of checking the calves, especially for any respiratory issues that tend to show up in the early days of housing.

The down side of this system, though convenient, is that there was a bill to be paid at the end of the season for calf ration.

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We are now making up our own calf ration, which will be fed to the calves ad lib in their creep area.

This ration is made up of 8pc finely chopped straw and 12pc molasses, along with wheat, barley, oats, flaked maize, maize-meal and a mineral.

Doing well: Two stock bulls are being run together with some groups of suckler cows on the Talbot farm. Picture: Alf Harvey.
Doing well: Two stock bulls are being run together with some groups of suckler cows on the Talbot farm. Picture: Alf Harvey.

So, in terms of herding the calves, as soon as the cows come out to feed, we walk through the calves to make sure they are okay.

The stock bulls have been pretty busy in the past few weeks and I was surprised to see that the last cow that calved was served by a bull last week.

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We are running two bulls together with some of the groups and it seems to be working well. I have seen several cows being served by both bulls. So I'm looking forward to good conception rates, but you never know!

We are not fattening any heifers this winter. We sold all our 15-month Angus heifers live, off the farm.

The remaining Belgian Blue heifers are still at grass. Also still out are our home-bred Stabiliser maiden heifers, which have an Angus bull running with them.

Surplus

We started to give both these groups of heifers some baled silage. Along with the bales saved this year, we had some surplus bales from last year. Some of these stored very well and some not at all.

So we will leave these two groups out until all the bales are gone, which should run them well into December, at which time we will remove the Angus bull from the breeding heifers.

At that stage, just for convenience, we will probably put all the heifers on the same diet as the cows.

But at this stage, the plan for the Belgian Blue heifers is to get them out early in the spring, get a month's grass into them and then sell them as stores, either off the farm or in the local mart.

We definitely won't be trying to finish them off grass.

We joined the BEAM scheme, which requires the allocated figure for our organic nitrogen output to be reduced by 5pc between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.

We expect that we will be able to achieve that reduction by a combination of selling these heifers early, putting 10 fewer cows to the bull this year, and just keeping our own replacement heifers. We will also make sure that all cull cows are gone off the farm by July 1.

The first of our under-16-month bulls are going to the factory this week.

When they first came in, they were coughing a bit. Tests showed that they had corona virus. When the muggy weather cleared, the coughing eased. It also helped that we have good ventilation in the shed and the pens aren't tightly stocked.

Looking at the bulls, I am confident that we will have no issue with having adequate fat cover.

I find this particularly gratifying because the diet the bulls are on was all produced on the farm, with the exception of the molasses.

The bulls are eating 0.5kg straw, 3kg silage, 2kg water, 12.5kg of a mix of homegrown wheat, barley, oats and molasses, plus a mineral.

We were lucky to complete the sowing of all our winter cereals. All the barley has now emerged, while the wheat and oats are starting to peep.

Some of the fields were rolled after sowing and the weather didn't allow it for the rest of them. On these ones, we will need to pick some stones at some point.

Some of the headlands have small areas where there is water lying but I don't think it will be an issue, provided it doesn't lie too long. The worst field is probably the one we have the oats in, and oats is a fairly tough crop. I would be more concerned if it was lying in the barley ground.

Hopefully, in a few weeks, we will get a chance to spray for weeds but you certainly wouldn't travel the fields at the moment.

Robin Talbot farms in Ballacolla, Laois with his wfe Ann

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