Cows content, but plan for winter
The middle of May is almost here and thankfully the countryside is starting to look as it should have long before now. The fields are filling up with cattle again, the whitethorns are whitening and the woolly hats and coats are being hung up.
The cows are also content for the first time this year. One evening recently I noticed they went and lay down in the cubicles after milking instead of rushing to the feed barrier for silage.
For the last three weeks of April, it was a huge challenge to keep the cows fed. But it was heartening to see so many neighbours helping each other out. Like many farmers, I got a phone call offering me a few bales if I needed them.
Even if it was only the one bale, often it was enough to get you through another few days.
Town of Monaghan Co-op put in a fair bit of work securing feed from Britain, of which I was one of the beneficiaries.
Most days I mixed up the bales so that if there was a dodgy bale it was all mixed up. The diet feeder certainly worked hard this spring.
Now I am thinking and planning towards next winter. The chance of building up any surplus fodder this year is looking slim at present.
First cuts will not be very bulky so I am looking at other feeds such as buying in fodder beet or maize. Will straw be plentiful this autumn? It's hard to see it the way some of the winter cereals have grown.
I will have to get geared up to make better use of straw and meals only for young animals. During the past month I have also seen how good quality hay is as good as any feed for cattle of any age. I was feeding it to the last remaining dry cows.
All the bulling heifers are out on grass since April 23. They are in two batches of 14 and 12 with two Friesian bulls. Twenty-three out of the 26 were served to AI.
I couldn't pick up the remaining three. One of the groups is getting meal. Apparently many bulling heifers around the country are under target weight, so I am watching my own closely to adjust the meal.
I decided to serve them since they were active and cycling and I hope I can make up any shortfalls between now and next January.
There are eight remaining heifers that I will push hard with grass and a dairy ration to get them served by the end of June.
Cows are out by day and should be by night very soon. Last week the farm cover was 436kg/ha, which indicates an ongoing grass deficit. The cows are being allocated 8kg of grazing, 7kg meal and 3kg of silage.
The meal is a beetpulp and soya mix and a high UFL ration. It has a crude protein value of 18pc at the moment but I will reduce this to 16pc to account for the extra protein that we will be getting into the cows at grass.
I am reluctant to go as low as 14pc in one fell swoop just to avoid any speed bumps with the cows' diet.
The 68 cows are producing 30 litres at 3.63pc fat and 3.10pc protein, giving a daily average of 2.07kg of milk solids per cow.
The SCC is at 233,000 and TBC is 9,000. Fertiliser in the form of pasture sward is being spread once a week, with paddocks getting 35units/ac.
The rotation length is at 30 days but this can be adjusted very easily. Last Tuesday, I returned to a paddock I had grazed first on February 21. After 70 days growth it had a cover of just 900kg.
So it only grew 11kg/day, and that would probably all be during the last 10 days.
Good heats are still being shown by the cows, who are accompanied by the teaser bull at the moment.
About eight cows have been scanned to find out why I haven't seen them on heat. Four had cysts, while the rest were ones I seemed to have missed.
There are still four cows left to calve and all the heifers have calved. I had one heifer that needed a kick-bar out of the 25 and one heifer that had a stillborn calf.
The calves are indoors still, with the older calves moved onto the slats. They are easier to keep clean here and are a saving on straw bedding.
I have been BVD testing for two years now but recently two of the BVD sample tags came back as empty for the first time.
This means that I now have to blood test these animals, which is a pain. At least I have been lucky enough not to have any positives so far in the scheme.
Maybe this is the payback for all the vaccination that I was doing for BVD over the last seven years.
At least the all-important single farm payment form has been filled in and sent off online.
I get my local Teagasc adviser to do this for me since it gives me peace of mind and is rolled into my annual advisory contract, so it isn't actually costing me anything extra.
My Ballyhaise student finished his 12-week placement with me last Friday. It was a challenging period on every farm and I hope none of the next generation of farmers will have been turned off by the hardship experienced.
I often get asked how you have enough work for a student, but I find there is always work to be done on a farm.
Sometimes it's not easy to see, but it all adds up to improving the conditions for the farmer and the family.
Gerard Sherlock is a dairy farmer from Tydavnet, Co Monaghan. E-mail: email@example.com
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