I sometimes wonder whether we made the right decision to go to autumn calving, but the experience of the past few weeks has totally vindicated our decision.
More than 90pc of our cows now calve in the August-September period but, this year, we had 26 cows to calve in Christmas week. Just before they started calving, the weather turned bad and the yard was extremely slippery with snow and ice. I made the decision not to let them out of the shed to give them their booster shot of Trivacton 6 because of the risk of injury. That error of judgement has really come back to haunt me.
While the calving went ahead relatively trouble-free, I had to brave the freezing cold to check them at night. But once the calves got to 4-5 days old, a lot of them started developing E-Coli scour. We had the vet in the yard once during the autumn calving, whereas with this particular batch, he called three times on some days.
Several calves had to be put on drips, one of them three times, and we lost four calves -- a mortality rate of 15pc, compared to under 2pc with the earlier batch. A lot of the calves that recovered are still not back to where they should be. On top of all that was the extra work and hassle in treating the sick calves.
One thing is certain. All cows will be vaccinated next year.
The bulls have all been removed from the autumn herd, so now we have to wait more than a month until we scan them. This is always an apprehensive time. Even though I don't see any cows bulling at the moment, you can never be sure how the breeding season has gone until they are scanned.
All the straw-bedded lie-back areas have been cleaned out in recent weeks. Normally we would spread that farm- yard manure on our maize ground, but circumstances don't allow that this year. So we spread it on paddocks where the cows will graze for the summer.
In previous years we would have spread quite a bit of urea for early grass but, last year, I think the urea that we spread early was almost totally wasted.
So, considering the price of fertiliser this year, we decided that we are not going to spread any fertiliser until the soil temperature gets up to 7 C -- hopefully that is not far away.
For the past few weeks, the strongest bull calves have been given access to a field next to the yard. I know a lot of people do this successfully but this is the first time we have done it and, from what we have seen so far, we will definitely be making a few minor adjustments to gates and fences so that we can let out a lot more of the calves next year.
Slurry tanks are starting to fill so, weather permitting, we hope to move a lot of slurry in the next few weeks. All the ground designated for first-cut silage will get 2,500ga of slurry per acre. We will start with the fields that are bare. Those with a covering of grass will be grazed first and then the slurry will be spread post-grazing -- after which we will apply fertiliser for silage, but that usually wouldn't be until the first week of April. We like to close up our silage ground around April 10.
At the moment, we have 21-month-old bulls that are fit for slaughter and we would hope to sell them this week. While I would be satisfied with their weight and fat cover, I think it has cost way too much to feed them. They have been eating 10kg of concentrate plus 7kg of maize silage and 0.7kg straw per head per day.
We await their returns with interest.
Robin farms in partnership with his wife, Ann, and mother, Pam, at Ballacolla, Co Laois