Farm Ireland

Thursday 26 April 2018

Satisfactory calving, now cows settle in for winter


Robin Talbot

Autumn calving is complete and, despite the difficult start, it was satisfactory overall. Quite a few of the last cows calved unassisted and mortality at or close to birth worked out at about 3pc. Mind you, we did have five caesarean sections, which is five more than we had last year.

We also lost two cows, both due to a haemorrhage post-calving. One cow actually walked into the shed with her fresh calf as normal. Next thing it was obvious that she was starting to come under some stress. We called the vet and just as he arrived she dropped dead.

Unfortunately, these things happen.

The rest of the cows and calves are safely tucked up in their winter quarters and have settled in very well with no problems so far. The recent torrential rain forced our hand a little bit and we ended up housing stock a lot sooner than anticipated. Ideally, I like to give the calves their booster shot of Bovipast and treat them for hoose and worms at least a week before housing but that wasn't possible this year. The downpours meant we just had to open the gates and let them in but once they were settled in the sheds, we did it then instead. I wouldn't have expected any side effects in the shed, but it's handier to do it when they are out.

We've also ended up leaving quite a bit of grass in some of the fields and, at the moment, the weanling heifers are grazing this off. I suppose this is where we would miss our spring calving herd, because I'm reluctant to let the weanling heifers graze out too much of the grass since it will definitely affect their performance.

In contrast, the spring calving suckler cows' performance would not be an issue at this time of year when they are weaned.

We would hope to finish the weanling heifers off grass next August and September and, to maximise return from them, we need to maintain a certain weight gain throughout their life because I don't believe that ground lost now can be made up later on. I always think that Continental cattle are bred to be fed, not to be stored.

At the moment the cows are getting a diet of approximately 1kg per head of straw, 26kg of grass silage, 15kg maize silage and 2.25kg of a barley soya mix, plus a dairy mineral.

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Speaking of the maize, the crop has been harvested and it has yielded roughly what we expected at 10t/ac fresh weight, which is around half of what we would normally get.

The calves are getting a mix of barley, molasses and soya. I like to put plenty of molasses in the calves' meal, for two reasons. Firstly, it keeps down the dust in the ration so you don't have calves coughing at the trough and, equally importantly I suppose, it makes the feed very palatable.

We batch and feed the calves according to quality, ie the best muscled calves with the best growth potential will be built up to 1.5kg/hd of feed per day, whereas, at the other end of the scale, the smaller heifer calves will eventually end up getting about 0.75 kg/head/day.

The breeding season seems to be going well with plenty of cows cycling. However, we did have one mishap last week, when one of the Limousin bulls injured himself in such a way that it was clear he wouldn't be capable of serving cows again, so he went to the factory.

As a consequence we had to source a new Limousin bull. The newcomer seems to be settling in well. I was quite happy to let him straight to the cows when he arrived because he was exactly what we were looking for, a bull in his working clothes rather than in show condition. So hopefully he'll be lucky.

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

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