Farm Ireland

Monday 22 January 2018

Good facilities at calving are a must to cope with upset cows

Robin Talbot

Difficult is the best word to describe our calving season to date. Quite a few cows need some help at calving and this is unusual on this farm where the vast majority calve unassisted. The problem seems to be that a certain percentage of the cows are running up to three weeks over their time whereas the ones that are calving to their time have been relatively trouble free.

So why they are running over their time? At this stage I just don't know, but it's obviously something we will have to investigate further. Perhaps it could be linked somehow to the great thrive all year? One thing we do know is that it's not unique to a particular bull.

However, at least by feeding the cows last thing in the evening a lot of those that need assistance are calving in the middle of the day rather than in the middle of the night.

Close to 60pc of the cows will have calved this month. Losses so far are running at about 3pc, along with two prolapsed cows and three sections which all produced live calves.

Even though a lot of cows need assistance we only lost one calf as a result of a difficult delivery. In hindsight, this was because of an error of judgement on my own behalf. The calf got held at the hips and, unfortunately, died before we could free him.

On a positive note, the issue of cows going over their time seems to be abating as a lot more are starting to calve to their due date.

One thing that struck me while trying to get a particularly uncooperative cow into the calving crush is how important it is to have good facilities for calving cows.

I saw a programme on TV one night entitled "When pets go bad". Set in America, it was about family pets, including dogs, cats and alligators, who were once the perfect companion and then, for some reason, went off the rails and attacked their owner. I was just thinking how relevant this is to what I am doing at the moment, where a perfectly docile cow can turn quite nasty for a few hours around calving time.

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So it's really important from a safety point of view to have good secure facilities for handling them and, while our facilities are neither elaborate nor expensive, they are still very effective. It's essential that the area where you are handling cows with young calves or assisting a cow to calve has gates that swing properly with effective fasteners so you can always keep a gate between yourself and the cow. I also think it's good to have the gates hung from opposite corners of the pens. This way you always have one gate available to close around behind the cow.

We also use these gates when we are tagging calves that are less than a day old. At this stage, the mother is still very protective so we have a rule here that you just do not tag the calf when the cow is in the pen.

We recently sold 40pc of last year's bull calves off the farm and we were well satisfied with the return. On their final weighing they had just turned 500kg on average which represented an average daily gain from birth of 1.35kg, which was 30kg heavier than the previous year's crop.

And, while in the current market, it would be quite easy to sell the rest of the weanling bulls, we've decided to finish them as bulls in the spring, mainly to provide some cashflow at that time of year.

Most of the grazing ground has by now received its final application of fertiliser and covers seem to be building up nicely. Hopefully that will see us safely through to housing.

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

Indo Farming