Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 March 2018

It's safety first when putting bulls in the crush

Robin Talbot

The Profitable Sucking Event, run by Teagasc last week in Kilkenny Mart, was excellent. It was well run and informative but what I, and many others, were most impressed with was Simon Coveney, the Minster for Agriculture.

He came across as not just being knowledgeable on his brief but also very interested and enthusiastic. To me, he gave the impression that he was extremely happy to be Minister for Agriculture, which can only be a good thing for the sector.

One thing I noticed was that when he had finished his official duties, he resisted the temptation to then just leave. Instead, he went up and took a seat among the crowd and sat there to listen to the other speakers.

In recent weeks, we had an outbreak of IBR in the beef bulls and it subsequently spread. This is the first time we have come in contact with this disease. We have never vaccinated for IBR but we will definitely be sitting down with our vet and drawing up a plan of action to make sure that we don't have another outbreak.

Unfortunately, one bull did not respond to treatment and he died after a few days but, thankfully, the rest of them have made a full recovery, although it did set them back a few weeks.

As soon as we knew what the problem was, we treated all the bulls with an 'IBR-marker live', administered up the animal's nose. We also treated all the other animals in that shed and felt we were in the clear but it flared up again, in another shed, among bull calves. Thankfully, they responded almost instantly to treatment. I feel that the outbreak may have been triggered by the extremely mild weather we have had.

We spread 2,500ga/ac of slurry on some of the silage ground in the past few weeks. As of yet, we haven't spread any artificial fertiliser. We recently invested in a soil thermometer (they're not expensive) and adopted an attitude of rather than looking at the calendar we have been holding off spreading fertiliser until the soil temperatures reach the 6-7°C bracket.

Looking at it last week, the temperature is pretty much there now so we hope to blanket spread all the new grasses and fresher pastures with around one bag of pasture sward per acre.

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We had the hoof trimmer in last week. I always like to give the stock bulls the once-over at the end of the breeding season, in case there are any issues that need to be attended to. If there are any injuries or bruising, as can happen, we have the whole summer to get it right, rather than let a problem that can be quite insignificant, if attended to early, develop into something quite nasty.

Safety is one thing we are always very mindful of when handling animals that are more than 1,000kg. These bulls are far too big to fit up the standard crush we have and, for many years, we have used a simple system to handle them.

We set the crate up in front of the cattle crush but leave a space between the crush and the crate that's more than long enough for a bull to stand in. We then let a cow up the cattle crush and into the crate.

With the cow secured in the crate, we then let the bull walk up outside the crush, using a gate to guide him towards the crate. Then the cow is released out of the crate. The bull invariably follows and he can be restrained when he reaches the headgate.

We are scheduled to do a herd test this week. Of all the jobs on the farm, I always find this the most stressful. Not because there is always the risk of having a reactor when you are testing cows, but it's just the job of putting cows and calves through the crush twice in a couple of days.

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

Indo Farming