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We are sticking with a 12-week calving cycle

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Hardy bucks: Four-month-old bull calves out in the snow last week on the Talbot farm in Ballacolla, Co. Laois

Hardy bucks: Four-month-old bull calves out in the snow last week on the Talbot farm in Ballacolla, Co. Laois

Hardy bucks: Four-month-old bull calves out in the snow last week on the Talbot farm in Ballacolla, Co. Laois

The weather has taken a seasonal turn, with a good covering of snow on the ground as I write. But if we get the winter in the winter, at least there's the possibility of getting the summer in the summer.

It never ceases to amaze me the amount of wildlife activity that occurs during the night, which is particularly evident early in the morning with a covering of snow.

I can tell the difference between a tractor tyre track and a wheelbarrow track but I'd love to be able to identify a lot of the birds and animals that leave their footprints. Thankfully, I haven't seen any evidence in the snow of rats with their trademark tail-trail.

At the moment, I am a little bit unsure of how our breeding season is going, even though we are near the end. In recent weeks, we have observed a few cows bulling that I would have expected to be in-calf since early in the breeding season.

I know that suckler cows sometimes rise on one another even when they are in calf, but some of the ones I observed rising on this occasion were certainly in heat.

We rotated the bulls during the season so it shouldn't be a bull issue if they do scan poorly.

At this stage there is not much we can do except keep our fingers crossed and wait until we scan them. We certainly won't be leaving in the bulls for an extra month. I am adamant that we will stick to our twelve-week calving pattern.

The calves all appear to be thriving well, with the exception of one group in a particular shed, which are eating well and have healthy, clear eyes. However, some of them have a bit of a cough and I am concerned in case it develops into something worse.

Some of the bull calves have access to a field at all times and, regardless of the weather, every day after feeding they will head outdoors for a few hours.

Up to this week, the cows had been getting second cut silage in their diet which was 72 DMD. Now that this is gone we have moved them on to first-cut which, although drier than the second-cut, is actually 3 points lower in DMD.

So we are mixing in some of our early first-cut which is 75 DMD to keep the feed value of the silage in their diet consistent. This also means that we do not have to add in extra cereal.

From now until turnout, we check our feed supplies on a weekly basis to make sure we have adequate to see us through. At the moment I would be confident that we have ample amounts of silage, straw and grain.

The sale of under-16 months bulls are on-going and it's good to see that the price has increased a small bit. But we must remember that it has come from a very low base. I'm also mindful of Teagasc's most recent estimate that the breakeven point for the most efficient producers is €4/kg.

Winter barley has been looking well and we seem to have a good stand of plants, so it looks a promising crop even though it has a long way to go yet.

We are going to increase our tillage this year. We haven't yet decided how much exactly, but we will certainly plough some ley.

The fact that we are ploughing some ley gives us a few different options on what crops to sow that we wouldn't otherwise have land suitable for. One is gluten-free oats, the other is barley for seed.

So we are researching those options at the moment but we are favouring the gluten-free oats option at this stage.

In early January we stuck an electric fence stake out in the middle of a paddock near the house with our soil thermometer in beside it. Sarah has been given the job to go out and check it every few days and then write the temperature on the calendar. At the moment, it's reading about 4C. So it needs to rise to at least 7C -and obviously the ground to dry as well- before we start thinking about spreading slurry.

Checking all the tanks recently we have adequate space to see us out for a long time yet.

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

rtalbot@ independent.ie

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