Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Herd test ups the stress levels on farms


Stress levels increase at the time of the herd test
Stress levels increase at the time of the herd test

Robin Talbot rtalbot@

Spring has taken a check before it has even begun.

All over the Christmas, it was remarkable how green everything was on the farm and soil temperatures were up around 5-6˚C. But during the recent cold snap soil temperatures plummeted. The lowest we recorded was -1˚C and hasn't risen above 4˚C recently.

A lot of the fields that had lovely covers on them are now scorched and there is a lot of dead vegetation that would need to be grazed off to give the pasture a chance for when the growth does come.

On the fields near the yard that have this dead grass on them we would hope to let out a small group of cows and strong bull calves for a few hours a day to clean off that dry grass.

Because of the low soil temperatures, we haven't spread any fertiliser or slurry yet. But it's something we are going to have to do very soon.

However, ground conditions have been good for travelling so we took the opportunity to draw all the farmyard manure (FYM) away to some stubble ground that traditionally wouldn't have gotten FYM.

We got it all spread and ploughed down in ideal conditions. The plan would be to put spring feeding barley in these fields, hopefully in around six weeks' time.

We have decided to sow gluten-free oats in the ley ground that we plan to plough.

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The company that we are contracted to sow it for are hoping that this will be sowed in late February. While we have grown oats on the farm before, this is our first time to grow the gluten-free version. I think there is quite a bit of it being grown in the mid-Leinster area this year.

Two big jobs to be done with the livestock in the next few weeks are to complete our annual TB herd test and scan the cows. Both I find to be stressful operations but in different ways.

The herd test is hard going. You are always on alert to ensure that calves don't get hurt or trampled and the fact that we are dealing with cows and calves means that the noise is absolutely deafening. What makes it particularly difficult is the size that the calves are at - too big to get into the cattle-crush to hold them but still small enough to be able to turn around with ease in the crush.

So we keep the fingers crossed that they will all go clear and we won't have to do it again until next year.

The big concern with scanning is that a high rate of empty cows could show up. That would mean, no matter what else you do for the rest of the year, your income is going to be down.

Ultimately, if a suckler farmer doesn't get enough live calves on the ground for the amount of cows let to the bull, you can't make up that lost ground. Ideally, you would like around 95pc to be in calf.

Sales of our under 16-month bulls are almost complete and it looks like we will finish up with an average carcase weight of around 390kg.

Its great to see the lift in prices but, unfortunately for us, a lot of our bulls were sold before the lift really kicked in. However, none of our heifers are sold yet so hopefully we will reap the benefit there.


I suppose the main lesson we learnt with the under-16 month bulls this year was the need to put the foot to the floor with their feed from the very start of their finishing period.

Because, although the grass quality and grazing conditions were ideal in late August and early September and the temptation was there to leave them out for an extra 7-10 days, in hindsight, that was a mistake.

They probably weren't getting enough energy from the grass at that stage. So I now think that 120 days of intensive finishing is an absolute minimum for these bulls.

We are reluctant to do up the figures on them until they are all sold but it looks like we will be getting them out on around 1.2-1.3t/hd ration, on average.

The heifers are on a diet of good first-cut silage (75 DMD) plus barley and molasses. We would plan to move them over this week onto the bull ration for an intensive 40-50/day finish but, looking at them, I figure some won't take that long.

The stretch in the days is always very welcome and I'm looking forward to getting out of the yard to do some fieldwork in the tractor.

Although, I find the novelty of that wears off quick, too.

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

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