Farm Ireland

Saturday 24 March 2018

'Not everyone has bank holidays off': Farmers need a break too says this dairy man

Gerard Sherlock

Gerard Sherlock

This week sees a return to work after the long Bank Holiday weekend for many people, except for those of us in the farming occupation.

Recently I listened to a few dairy farmers talking about how lucky they are if they can get a few hours off on a Sunday. The workload this time of year is enormous. Some days morning milking followed by feeding calves can soon run into evening milking again very quickly.

I read last week's article from Darragh McCullough about trying to milk cows with less stress. Of course it made sense. We, the farmers, have to make the necessary changes - and not have a situation where the cows are changing us.

We all have at least doubled in cow numbers from a few years ago when our fathers were milking. And, as the simple saying goes, 'more cows, more work'.

Read more: Why farmer 'burnout' could derail dairy sector growth (90-hour working weeks 'not unusual')

For many of us we have come out the other side of a busy spring, we should now write down when it is still fresh in our minds what went right and what went wrong this spring and try and do something about the issues for next year. Now that the show season has begun we should take advantage of a trip or a day away.

One positive and negative issue for me this spring, and I can't do anything about it, was that I had the seventh set of twin calves last week. That is seven out of 78 cows calved. Never before had I so many. Thankfully all twin calves were born healthy and well.

The negative side being it wrecks the cow. The cows have to be watched carefully with retained cleanings as stomach problems can develop. I treated them all with Betamox antibiotics and wash outs. There are eight cows left to calve. These have all been outdoors since early April with pre-calver licks.

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Cows are out full-time since last week. Despite the cold of last week we had little or no rain. Ground conditions are as good as you could get for May. Milking cows are producing 26.3 litres at 3.86pc BF, 3.26pc PR, and giving 1.92kg MS/cow/day, TBC 5000, SCC 138, Therm. 100, Lactose 4.83pc.

Last week my farm cover was 685kg/ha. I am stocked at 4.9LU/ha and the grass cover/LU is 140kgs. I have moved to a 14pc protein ration with calmag. Actisaf is also included in the nut to counteract acidosis in the cows' stomachs. Cows are getting 5kgs.

I started the second rotation last week which was a fortnight later than planned. Last week the second rotation grass was testing at 16pc DM, 19pc protein, 11.5 ME and 79 DMD. Second rotation grass tends to be very lush and soft which will lead to dungs getting very loose. I hope that milk solids will keep up.

Fertiliser in the form of pasture sward plus sulphur is being applied to each paddock after grazing, with all paddocks having received around the 130 units/acre.

My slurry contractor recently purchased a low emissions slurry spike injector which can attach to the pipe system as well as the tanker. Last week he tried it out on two of my cow paddocks. The slurry was thin and it seems to have left the grass very clean after spreading. He applied about 2200 gallons/acre.

It works as fast as splash plate spreading, but little should be lost to the atmosphere. I hope to use it for spreading after first cut silage. Indeed, silage making time is just around the corner. Silage crops are growing well. I sprayed some of my silage ground for docks using Doxstar. As I finished feeding silage last week I have about 18 foot of silage left over in the pit.

During the last two weeks managing calves took some extra time as cryptosporidium got in. I lost one calf. This particular calf also had pneumonia as well so it was probably very susceptible.

The vet tested a sample of the scour when he was treating the calf and the test showed positive for crypto. I now have dosed any newborn calves with Halocur as a preventative treatment.

There is demand for the Hereford calves and I am selling them from the yard. One thing that has annoyed me recently is the number of BVD tissue tag results coming back as empty. Maybe one or two is acceptable but I think I am at six now. I haven't changed my tagging practises and I am using the same tag supplier.

The breeding season began on April 10, with three weeks of breeding finishing up yesterday. The teaser bull with chinball is working well with the cows. The Friesian bulls I am using this year are FR2239, FR2385, FR2298, FR2297.

A batch of 15 heifers were served and have moved to the out-farm with a Hereford bull I purchased earlier this year.

Gerard Sherlock farms at Tydavnet, Co Monaghan

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