'The extra month indoors has taken a toll on the bull calves' performance'

Belgian Blue bull calf on Talbot's farm in Ballacolla, Co. Laois in 2016.
Belgian Blue bull calf on Talbot's farm in Ballacolla, Co. Laois in 2016.
Managing director of ABP's International Division, Mark Goodman, and Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed, pictured at the announcement in Shanghai last week of ABP's exclusive 3-year agreement valued at €50million, with Asian restaurant chain Wowprime Corporation

Robin Talbot

"If you don't measure it, you can't manage it" is a well-known saying in farming. And that's certainly where we are with our bull calves this year.

They certainly, to my eye, have taken a hit on performance: simply because they were in the sheds a month longer than they would usually be, they are behind where I would like them to be.

When you are doing bulls under 16 months, there are certain targets that need to be met to achieve 400kg carcase weight.

Experience tells us that to achieve that kind of weight, we need to be averaging approximately 690kg liveweight at slaughter. They need to be around 400kg on June 1 and 520kg on September 1.

This week we plan to weigh all the bulls and see exactly where they are on performance. They are also overdue a treatment for hoose and worms.

When we know their average weight, we can then consider how we are going to manage them for the rest of the summer.

On the assumption that they are a bit lighter, there are three options available to us.

One would be to feed them a little bit of meal at grass, which we won't do. I just can't see the logic of replacing good grass with expensive ration.

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Or we could start to feed them a few weeks earlier. Instead of a 120-day finishing period, we could do 140 days.

The third option is to finish them as normal, and take the hit on the carcase weight.

They are decisions that we can defer until later on in the summer when we might have a better idea what the actual price/kg will be in the autumn.

We would have no problem starting their finishing period a few weeks earlier if the price was such that it justified the extra feed. But we would be determined not to do it for vanity.

We took our early first cut silage last week and, as soon as there is a good cover of aftergrass, we will certainly wean the bull calves, and turn them out on it. Hopefully, they will kick on from there.

Last week, we weaned the cull cows. We have them on good grass and they will be well fit to go for slaughter some time in June, hopefully for a good price per kg.

Grass growth has really taken off in the past couple of weeks and we now have ample covers in front of all stock.

We have taken out some paddocks in front of every grazing group and this will go into the silage pit in a few weeks.

As with most farmers, the challenge this year is to replenish our silage stocks.

From other years, we know that we need at least 1,500 tonnes of silage in the pits. So, once all the cows are weaned over the next month, we will close up as much ground as we possibly can.

Next week, we will take a few bales off one of the paddocks that we have closed up. Hopefully these bales will be top quality which we will feed to the fattening bulls when they come into the shed.

The fact that all the slurry tanks are full means that every piece of ground that we cut will get 2,500-3,000 gallons/ac of slurry immediately afterwards.

In spite of the poor growing conditions, the winter barley is looking very well and is almost fully shot out at this stage. That will get its final fungicide in the next 7-10 days.

The winter oats has got a growth regulator and fungicide a few weeks ago and we will probably spray it with growth regulator again this week.


It has been topped up to 90 units of N per acre, which is a little bit more nitrogen than I intended.

The most important thing with oats is to keep the crop standing because, once the crop lodges, it is a lot harder to harvest, obviously, but also the grain doesn't seem to fill as well.

Also, the field that we have it sown in this year is north-facing with a good hill on it and it is a field that is prone to lodging because of the topography.

Since we grow oats for our own feed, it is important to have a plump quality grain.

We got the spring barely sown - eventually - in nice conditions. It emerged very quickly. We put 4cwt/acre of 10.5.25 down the spout at sowing time. We have subsequently topped the N up 100 units per acre. The variety we sown was Planet and we would hope to get it sprayed for weeds this week.

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

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