Summer is here and in this part of the country that means one thing — hurling. Everyone is back at the local pitch, from toddlers all the way to the golden oldies, dreaming of how things were done “back in my day”.
Under 7s training is where I find myself twice a week and I always look forward to it. It’s a great place to meet people that I might not otherwise get to talk to. Twenty-odd kids running around might be a bit chaotic, but it’s great craic watching them slowly improve every week.
At this age, the focus is on making sure they have fun, while also teaching them the basic skills of the game. A very knowledgeable colleague of mine has always said: “You need to be brilliant at the basics.”
There’s not much point in asking a child to put the ball over the bar if he/she doesn’t know how to hold the hurley properly. The basics are the foundation upon which everything else is built.
This applies to much more than underage hurling. There are many areas of farming at this time of year where, if the basics aren’t addressed, then the rest of the system crumbles.
One area where this is apparent is breeding. The breeding season is in full swing at the moment and many herds are heading into their fourth week of AI. The novelty has well worn off at this stage and now its becoming a chore to have to draft and serve cows every morning and evening.
I have seen a lot of herds in the last few days where a simple, yet fundamental task like tail painting (and more general heat detection) is starting to get a little haphazard. If tail paint isn’t topped up regularly, it gets harder to identify a cow when she’s in heat.
Truthfully, I have scanned a lot of cows over the past week that were supposedly ‘not cycling’, but up close, it was quite apparent they had been bulling. On ultrasound scan, they were often mid-cycle with very healthy ovaries and uterus. If there isn’t enough tail paint, then it can be very difficult to catch some cows bulling.
Some may say: “Sure I have collars/boluses to heat detect, so that doesn’t apply to me.” Technology has revolutionised cow health and particularly heat detection. However, investing in technology doesn’t mean you can close your eyes to what’s going on around you.
I had a case last week where I was scanning a number of cows that hadn’t cycled yet. The farmer in question had recently installed wearable technology and after three weeks of breeding, his phone alerted him to the cows that needed attention. With one click, they were drafted after milking the next day.
There wasn’t too many, but one cow stood out before I even scanned her. Her tail head was skinned and she was showing all the hallmarks of a bulling cow — agitated, rising on others in the pen and they, in turn, rising on her. When the farmer did some further investigation on his phone, he discovered this cow’s collar had been effectively turned off for the past month.
He, of course, had received messages detailing this, but he hadn’t paid them any heed. This cow had been bulling three weeks ago and was in heat again today. The basic principals of heat detection still apply, regardless of how advanced your system is. Keeping an eye on cow behaviour and checking to see if it matches what the technology is telling you is something well worthwhile doing.
In a similar vein, I was called to examine a recently purchased bull that the farmer wasn’t happy with. “He has all the gear,” he told me. “He just doesn’t seem to know what to do with it.”
I performed a full exam on what was a fine specimen of a Hereford bull and everything was in order, including a semen sample that was of excellent quality. Luckily, the farmer had held a bulling cow back after milking and when he let the young bull out to her in a small paddock by the holding pen, he did everything except what he was supposed to do.
He jumped on her head, he knelt down by her udder and he even jumped so that he was lying across her back with his head and front legs on one side of the cow and his back legs on the other. An instruction manual is what he really needed, but in the obvious absence of that, we had to come up with another plan.
We put the young bull back into the crush and the farmer went and got the old bull out of the slatted shed where he was being fattened for the factory. In full view of the young bull, the old timer ambled up to the cow, bulled her on the first go, turned around and started to munch grass.
I’d swear he even winked at the young bull who, at this stage, was testing the foundations of the crush in his attempts to get out. The old bull was locked back into his pen and as soon as the young bull was let out again, it was obvious that the short tutorial had been enough to educate him.
After a few efforts, he successfully bulled the cow. This bull now had the basics right.
All the new parlours, fancy drafting systems and incredible technology out there at present are pointless unless the basics are right. In an increasingly pressurised system, the basics are becoming more and more important.
Nutrition at this time of year is the corner stone on which the success of the breeding season is built but, if not managed correctly, will be the rock on which the herd will perish. Keeping a close eye on bulk milk urea and lactose is a good indicator of energy and protein content of the diet.
Similar bulk milk fat as an indicator of rumen health and protein as an indicator of energy are figures you are getting a few times a week, Basic stuff, but still vitally important. Similarly, mineral status and worm burden are things we always hear talked about, but are sometimes overlooked.
A few blood samples and a milk sample will give us all the information we need with regard to these. A mineral injection and a worm dose — basic stuff again — could mean the difference of two litres of milk/cow/day or 10pc more cows in calf. Even very basic stuff like early lameness detection and treatment can reap massive rewards.
Like the children at hurling training, lets get the basics right and then the rest will fall into place.
Eamon O’Connell is a vet with Summerhill Vet Clinic, Nenagh, Co Tipperary