Farm Ireland

Monday 11 December 2017

Plenty to do despite August success

Robin Talbot

It's been the best August in years for calving cows. We have just over 100 cows calved and it has been relatively incident free so far, thankfully. Losses are running at less than 2pc, with four sets of twins all alive and well. We lost one cow, who succumbed to peritonitis. A few cows needed minor assistance and we had three difficult calvings but all resulted in live births -- and no sections yet.

As soon as calves are strong enough, they're de-horned, given their first Bovipast vaccination (5ml under the skin) and moved to grass; which paddock they go to depends on which bull the cow is going to be bred to.

We try to keep fairly detailed records of the cows as they calve so that, if needs be, they can be marked off for culling. If I don't do it at this stage, cows that I would like to cull, for being aggressive or difficulty of calving or an udder problem, can easily slip through the net and reappear the following year with the same problem.

We have had what can be best described as an explosion of grass these last few weeks. So I decided to add Bloatenz to the drinking water to prevent bloat in the cows at pasture. It only costs a few cent per head per day and gives peace of mind.

I am always apprehensive when we have cows in-calf to a new bull but it looks like our latest recruit, a Belgian Blue, could turn out to be our easiest calver and, more than that, it also looks like he will fit the bill for the change of focus we are making on the farm.

Traditionally we have finished all animals off the farm, with the males as bull beef. In the past few years we have been moving more towards the live trade and, last year for the first time, all the bulls were sold live. We hope to repeat that this year. This new stock bull has more muscle and is not as tall as bulls that I would traditionally have used.

On our weanling sales, our target is to average €1,000/hd across all the bulls. Half the bulls are sold and that target still seems realistic. We have also sold some heifers for export. This was very interesting, insofar as a similar number of heifers from the previous crop went to the factory the same week and the difference in price between the two lots was €340/hd. This would be scant reward for a full year's keep.

A job we had been threatening to do for a long time was to move our water troughs to better positions in the fields to make it easier to sub-divide fields with temporary fencing to better utilise our grass. Like most people our water troughs tended to be just inside the gate or in a corner of the field.

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Mother Nature has now forced our hand. The concrete troughs that didn't burst in last winter's frost started to leak in the hot weather. We recorded temperatures of -17C in January and one day in June it hit 30C -- so if the cold didn't get them then the heat did. So we have had to replace most of them. We decided to opt for 250gallon plastic troughs and hopefully this work will be completed in the next few weeks.

Another job on our to-do list is to give the stock bulls their final pre-breeding check-up i.e. make sure their feet are OK, treat for parasites and move to better pasture. We are always conscious of not letting the Belgian Blue bulls get too heavy over the summer. But it is now just two months out from the breeding season and it is important at turnout that bulls are in a good fit, healthy, condition with plenty of energy reserves.

Irish Independent