Consequences of not puting down my BVD calf timebomb too big to ignore

TAKING OVER: Lush carpets of weeds and volunteer cereals are a common sight on stubbles this year
TAKING OVER: Lush carpets of weeds and volunteer cereals are a common sight on stubbles this year
John Large

John Large

If ever we needed reminding that theory and practice often make strange bedfellows, all we need to do is look out into a tillage field this year. On our farm the stubbles have produced a magnificent crop of weeds and volunteer cereals as a result of exceptional growth post-harvest.

Conditions this year would have been ideal to spray off all that regrowth and carry clean ground into the spring. But Department of Agriculture rules dictate that we need to have a green cover on stubbles over the winter.

Looking out in the fields at the moment I have real concerns about the carryover of disease and pests into next year's crop.

At the moment the logic would suggest, and I know these things can change, that we will have to use more and stronger sprays in the future. It is more expensive for the farmer. I also wonder what impact that has on the environment?

We got our silage results back recently and I was very pleased with the quality of the two first cuts. They were both 76 drymatter digestibility (DMD) but the latter of those cuts taken in early June has a dry matter of 50pc, which makes it quite bulky to feed.

The suckler cows rearing calves are getting this particular silage. They are eating about 24kg of it per head per day. They are also getting straw, barley, soya, a dairy mineral and water in the diet and they are very settled and happy.


We seem to have plenty of cows cycling at the moment and the bulls are extremely active. However, our breeding season hasn't been without incident. One bull lasted less than 24 hours with the cows when he acquired a career-ending injury and we sent him to the factory.

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We were lucky that there was a Belgian Blue bull sale coming up. I managed to secure a replacement and he has settled in extremely well.

It's something I wouldn't recommend as a rule, to buy a bull in a sale, bring him home and let him out with the cows, but needs must.

The bull had been out in the field up to the day before the sale so I was happy enough that he was tough enough and robust enough for the vagaries of November weather.

I am a great believer that things always average themselves out and, while our calving period was relatively trouble and event free, and losses were at a minimum, the last few days brought us down to earth with a bump.

One of the fattening bulls on the slats seemed to have hurt his back and although he was on a straw bed for a few days he seemed to have no use at all of his hindquarters. So, on veterinary advice, we had no option but to get him put down.

We also had a calf come back positive for BVD. We immediately isolated him and his mother in a paddock.

After three weeks we subsequently re-tested him and he has again come back positive.

While we were waiting for the second result I suppose I was subconsciously hoping that he would somehow start to show ill-thrift, which would make the inevitable decision a lot easier. If anything the opposite was the case and he continued to do extremely well.

However, I believe you have to trust the veterinary science which tells us that he is a timebomb waiting to go off in our herd. The consequences of not taking the hard decision to put him down are massive.

We continue to close up pastures for the spring and some of them already have a nice cover of re-growth on them.

Housing of stock is ongoing at the moment and will be completed shortly.

The top job of my to-do list for this winter is to soil test the whole farm.

It is five years since we did the previous one and I am looking forward to getting the results and sitting down to compare the two sets of tests to see if there have been any changes in soil fertility.

In recent years, we've been a lot more conscious of utilising our slurry rather than just emptying the tanks.

We have also moved away from spreading straight nitrogen and switched to a compound instead.

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

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