Robin Talbot: 'Revamped diet going down a treat with the cows and our balance sheet'

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
Independent nutritionist Gerry Giggins.

Robin Talbot

They say every day is a school day. And I think that is certainly the case for us this year when it comes to feeding our suckler cows.

A few months ago, I was very concerned that we weren't going to have enough of silage to see us through the winter. If truth be told, it had me stressed out a bit.

I spoke to our cattle ­nutritionist Gerry Giggins and he came up with a diet, which has less silage and more straw than we would usually use.

From the calculations we made and what silage we had on hand, we knew we needed to reduce the amount of silage fed to the cows daily to 25kg. This is a saving of about 10kg per head per day.

So, at the moment the cows are getting 25kg of top quality silage, 2.75kg oaten straw and 4.25kg of a mix of barley and oats. There is also a mineral included.

One of the positive side-­effects of this diet is that a fill of the wagon feeds a lot more cows, which surprised me.

Also, the cows seem to absolutely love the diet. It's easier to keep them bedded, too.

So, at the moment, it seems a win-win for us.

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Since we have a tillage enterprise, we would always have a surplus of straw and I'm now thinking that maybe we could use this diet again, and make 40 acres less of silage.

On the breeding front, things seem to have quietened down a good bit.

We rotated the bulls last week and they don't seem to be too busy. Whether or not that is a good sign remains to be seen.

I thought we were well equipped with bulls coming into the breeding season this year.

But, unfortunately, one morning a couple of weeks ago, I went out to feed the cows and found our best Blue bull lying rigid on the ground with three magpies sitting on top of him. That is never a good sign.

I immediately called the vet. She quickly diagnosed that he had developed a Vitamin B1 deficiency, which, she felt, might have been because of the unseasonably soft fresh grass.

Maiden heifers

Also, he was extremely busy and maybe not eating enough.

She treated him intravenously and he is slowly recovering.

But he is unlikely to work again - certainly not this season, anyway. As for the other stock bulls, the plan is to remove them after 10 weeks breeding, which is about the turn of the year.

The bulls will be taken away from the maiden heifers this week.

That will have given them an eight-week breeding period. I always like to have a few extra heifers, which allows us to take the bulls out at eight weeks.

Any heifer that doesn't go in calf in eight weeks is probably going to be a slow breeder anyway, so the sooner that is found out the better. Any that are scanned not in calf will be fattened.

We are in the process of treating all animals for fluke. Also, any calves that are due their three-month IBR live vaccine booster are getting that as well.

The first time, it would have been administered inter-nasally; this time it can be given into the muscle.

We have started to sell our Under-16 month bulls. As we expected, they are back about 10kg/head carcase weight on last year's crop. As we all know, the price is also well back.

The cost of feeding them is up, too.

So that is a bad combination - weight down, price down, cost up.

On the positive side, our fat scores are quite good, with the majority of the bulls being Fat Score 3 or better.

The heifers that are comrades of these bulls have been brought in. We will feed these a growing diet over the winter, after which we will increase the concentrates, hopefully finishing them out of the shed in March/April.

Ideally, I would have preferred to have given the heifers their IBR a couple of weeks before they came in. But that just didn't happen. So it now needs to happen as soon as possible.

They will get a live vaccine into the muscle. When they are in the crush, we will also trim their tails and clip their backs.

We soil test the whole farm every four to five years. So it's due to be done again shortly. But, in future, I think we will change tack slightly … and do one-third every year.

That way, it isn't such a daunting task to do it.

Also, when you get results back of the whole farm, it can be a bit overwhelming and maybe we don't use them as well as we could.

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

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