Farm Ireland

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Housing D-Day is just around corner so it is vital to keep livestock at grass for as long as possible to prepare for winter challenges

John Joyce

John Joyce

With the harvest finished and only a few loads of straw left to deliver, the next challenge for the farm is to keep the livestock at grass for as long as possible before housing them.

Most farmers might not like to hear it but winter is just around the corner, so I think a plan must be put in place to push out the housing D-Day. I am aiming for November 1.

To do this I will be lengthening the last rotation and trying to budget the grass as best I can. If I can achieve this, the farm has sufficient winter feed accumulated for a five-month winter, and the remaining grass can be cleaned up by the ewes and the last remaining lambs.

All the cattle are thriving well on good quality grass that has grown in the past month. If weather conditions remain good it will be well utilised. But at this time of the year what looks like heavy covers of grass can often disappear quickly if the weather takes a turn for the worse.

The stock bull was removed from the cows just three weeks ago. That might sound late to some, but we lamb first before starting into calving. Two cows have been observed in heat since but I will wait another two weeks before scanning.

The empty cows will then be separated and put on good grass with the aim of having them factory fit by January. The cows are grazing the wetter fields of the farm at the moment, and in three weeks' time will be moved to rented ground where a butt of grass has developed. This should keep them contentedly chewing for the month of October before being housed.

Magnesium was added to the drinking water two weeks ago but I have introduced Hi-Mag mineral buckets in the past couple of days. They have a 12pc magnesium content, with 250g per cow per day recommended.

They have worked well on the farm over the last number of years and I find it a cheap and easy way to combat grass tetany at this time of the year. But the golden rule is to put the buckets out before you lose a cow.

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A number of the younger calves are been treated for pneumonia, which is unusual given the good spell of weather. Maybe it was the cold nights that triggered it, so it's an issue I'll be keeping an eye on at this time of the year.

The young bulls are still improving at grass with a supplement of 2kg of meal per head daily. More importantly, they are behaving themselves after being segregated into smaller groups. The size of the groups is designed to suit the pens at housing, but I will keep them at grass for as long as possible.

At this time of the year, I think it is important on a beef farm to plan which cattle will be sold for the Christmas trade and early spring.

The beef heifers are still at grass and getting 2.5kg of meal a day. They are still a few weeks off the required level of finish for the factory but, again, I'm disappointed with the beef prices being offered by the factory bosses.

Is this their way of reducing the price of store cattle before the big purchase for the winter feed period? Presumably, cheap cattle bought now will still be a little cheaper when they are sold to the processor next spring.

On the sheep side, the rams are busy at work in the fields. I have done a faecal egg sample as a task for the STAP programme. Its objective is to establish if there is a level of parasite resistance to the commonly used anthelmintics. A local laboratory in Portumna provides the facilities.

I am thinking of using this service later in the year after housing to do a worm count in the cattle before and after dosing. This will help us see if there could be a potential problem with the products we are using on the cattle, too.

Macra is now busy developing our pre-budget document and lobbying TDs and the Minister for Agriculture in a bid to minimise budget cuts to the agri-sector and farmers, especially the younger ones.

John Joyce farms at Carrigahorig, Nenagh, Co Tipperary, and is agri-cultural affairs vice-chairman with Macra. Email:

Irish Independent

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