Farm Ireland

Monday 25 March 2019

Robin Talbot: 'We took a leap of faith last week when we bought two Stabiliser 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
Stock image.

Robin Talbot

We took a leap of faith last week when we bought two Stabiliser bulls.

We have used a Stabiliser bull for the last two breeding seasons and we are excited at the different possibilities they seem to offer.

Our first batch of Stabiliser bulls were slaughtered over the past few months. Their weight gain and performance has impressed me.

We are told that lighter, more efficient cows will be needed to combat climate change and, from what we have seen of the Stabilisers to date, we hope that they will fit the bill.

A lot of our suckler cows are just too big, with a mature weight of 750-800kg. I'm told that the mature weight of a Stabiliser cow is 650kg, so that is one that we will be watching with interest.

The comrades of the under-16 month bulls were run with an Angus bull and were all scanned in calf last week. So they will be calving down at 24 months.

We would always have bought in our replacement heifers. But, in recent years, we have found the first cross off the dairy herd has been losing shape and they are very milky. I don't like cows with too much milk because, as they start to mature in the herd, their udders get bigger and the newborn calves in particular find them harder to suck.

Another downside is that, the more milk a cow has, the bigger the appetite she will obviously have.

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We find that, if we go a couple of crosses out from the dairy herd to get a bit of shape, we end up with a very big cow.

One of the things I really like about the Stabiliser is that there is no dairy genetics in them; they are a maternal beef breed.

The current (autumn 2018) crop of calves are what made up our minds for us.

They were easily calved, small and hardy with plenty of get-up-and-go. While they don't have the shape of some of our other calves, they are showing signs of having excellent growth rates with adequate shape.

A lot of the Stabiliser bulls that we killed at under-16 months were U grades.

All our breeding heifers were scanned last week. 98pc of them were in calf, and 72pc of them are due in the first 21 days.

The only thing that we changed from other years with this group of heifers is that we ran two Angus bulls with them at the same time, rather than rotating the bulls.

We also ran a team of two bulls with a bunch of mature cows. They are due for scanning this week, as are all the rest of the cows.

The reason why we tried the two-bull team is that I saw it operating on a larger scale - four bulls running with 90 cows - at the walk on the O'Connor farm in Moone, Co Kildare last year as part of the Irish Grassland Association beef conference.

The only possible downside I can see in this is that we won't know the sire of our calves.

DNA testing

I know, on our ICBF reports, we would have furnished 100pc of the sire details but I think the elephant in the room for everybody is that calves are going to have to be DNA-tested.

If we are serious about cattle breeding in this country, we need to stop squabbling about who is going to pay for the DNA-test, just get on and do it.

We were determined that we weren't going to get caught out like last year with tanks full of slurry towards the end of the housing period. So, we took advantage of the good weather in the second half of January and emptied all the tanks. Most of the slurry was spread with a trailing shoe.

We spread some fields that had good covers of grass with the trailing shoe, which we wouldn't have done with a splash plate and it seems to have worked well. So, hopefully, we will get a chance to graze them in a few weeks' time.

Three separate groups of calves have access to the field 24/7. At the moment, they are spending a lot of time out grazing. They seem to have no problem going a couple of fields away from the yard to graze.

So, this spring, if we are confident that we have enough of winter feed, we might hold the cows in a week or two longer and let the calves travel further. So that calves would be getting the nice fresh grass rather than the cows.

We will join the BEEP scheme. Especially since the current crop of calves have EID tags. It's worth €40/head per cow and calf unit, though it's a long way from the €200 per head that our beef cattle are losing at the moment.

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

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