Robin Talbot: Shape up or ship out is the bottom line on stock bulls

Stock image
Stock image
This pen of 597kg Aberdeen Angus Crosses were on the market for €1120/hd at Tullow Mart last week. Photo: Roger Jones.

Robin Talbot

The Rose of Tralee is well behind us, the two All-Irelands are won and the Ploughing is only around the corner. So history tells us that, at this stage of year - even with the best possible conditions - not enough grass is going to be grown on this farm this season to make up for the shortfall.

While we've had rain in recent weeks, and everywhere has greened up with good covers of grass, I find that it's very soft and the cows are actually motoring through it.

It's hard not to see them coming in fairly early because we will run out of grass.

It will be important for us to keep cows on a positive train of nutrition in the build-up to the breeding season, which begins on October 20, and onwards from then.

To further complicate the issue, we can't lose sight of the need to have a plan in place to start closing up fields from around October 10, in order to have an early bite next spring.

We still have 20 acres of silage to cut.

While its nice quality grass, there is not much bulk in it and its probably quite high in Nitrogen.

So we will make up our minds this week whether we will pit it or strip-graze it. Either way, it's less than ideal. That said, we are glad to have it.

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One positive is that calving has gone as well as we could possibly have hoped for, as we now head into the stragglers.

A high percentage of cows have calved unassisted and we have had no health issues at all with the calves.

We started off with a high percentage of heifer calves but it seems to have balanced itself out a bit, with a lot bull of calves in the second half of the calving.

The calves have got their live IBR vaccine inter-nasally and also their first shot of Bovipast.

We have never vaccinated for BVD and all our samples so far have come back negative.

Most of the calved cows have been sorted into their grazing/breeding group. They have all also got their booster for Lepto and IBR.

One of our Belgian Blue bulls, who succeeded in putting every cow in calf that he ran with last year, unfortunately went to the factory last week.

It appears that he did some damage to his hip and the veterinary advice is that it would take a long time to heal, if at all.

So we reluctantly took the decision to cull him.

He came in at just shy of 580kg carcase weight.

He will now need to be replaced.

I find that, if you are running stock bulls with a herd of cows, you need to be ruthless about their fitness, no matter how good a bull is.

It gets very messy if a bull becomes unsound during the breeding season.

You are then trying to source a suitable replacement at short notice, which is almost impossible.

And it's never a good idea to introduce a bull straight into your breeding situation, without him having served a period of quarantine on the farm.

We put our beef bulls into the shed at the end of August. They appear to have settled in well and are starting to thrive.

But, as I feared, they have a bit of lost ground to make up and I am not so sure they can do it. A couple of weeks before housing, we treated them for IBR, also for hoose, worms and fluke. We also trimmed their tails.

We also weighed them and it showed up some interesting results.

Our Angus bulls were 480kg, which is more or less where we would have expected them to be.

Our Belgian Blue bulls were 490kg, which is lighter than we would have expected. But I wasn't surprised by this because I always believe that Belgian Blues perform best when conditions are good and this was a tough summer for them.

I think they still have the potential to make up a lot of lost ground during the finishing period.

Surprise package

But I suppose the real surprise package were the bull calves out of our heifers, by a Stabiliser bull. They weighed 540kg.

So it remains to be seen in the sprint to the under 16- month finishing line, who has the kick?

Our stubble ground has greened up well, after being disced. We sprayed it all last week, with 2 pints of glyphosate per acre.

Hopefully we will get a lot of it ploughed in the next few weeks.

Our plan this year is to change our cropping slightly. Weather permitting, we would hope to sow winter barley, winter oats and winter wheat. If we can get that done, it means that we will stop spring barley altogether.

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

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