Spring calving in suckler herds

New Year new-borns

Spring calving Suckler herds are about to begin calving or have just started.

Do you have everything ready for the busy season ahead? Check that the water troughs in the calving boxes are operating.

Plenty of fresh clean water is essential to get the new mother up and running post calving. Dust down the calving jack and check that it is mechanically sound and that the two ropes are in good order for work. It’s a good idea to stock up on lubricant to aid in any difficult calving.

Do you have iodine or whatever spray you normally use on the new-born’s navel? Make sure that if you have a calving gate that it is fully functioning.

If you don’t have a safe calving gate, you must ask yourself why? They are a fantastic tool for when you are checking a cows calving progress safely, assisting a calving and also when getting the calf to suck. Also, do you have a sufficient stock of calf ear tags?

Using technology around calving

Many now have access to their calving camera on smartphones or tablets. Technology such as this really should be embraced on suckler farms to make sure that the calving season runs as smoothly as possible. The less times you have to visit the shed the better for you and your cows. Having to enter the shed during a calving can slow down the process and this is very true for first calvers. I find the MooCall calving sensor an essential tool when my cows are calving. Who ever thought that their cows would be sending them text messages?

In 2019, Bord Bia predicts continued price competition on the EU and international markets. In Europe the prospect of greater supplies of beef under a Mercosur deal and uncertainty over a Brexit deal overshadow the market outlook. Growth in international exports will depend on improved Irish access to Asian markets and relative price levels. Oppportunities for Irish beef are expected to continue due to growing demand for beef with a premium image and high-quality assurance and sustainability standards, but consumer and NGO challenges over sustainability, animal welfare and levels of meat consumption are likely to persist.

Transition management of fresh cows

Monitor the first few cows to calve carefully for metabolic disorders and held cleanings. Grass silages made in 2018 have very variable mineral profiles and there is a huge potential for problems around calving if proper mineral supplementation is not provided to dry cows.

Colostrum management

Calves who get poor volumes or poor-quality colostrum end up with a significantly depressed immune system. Inferior quality colostrum is directly related to substandard nutrition in the dry cow period.

Supplementation with a little protein in the last three weeks before calving will have a dramatic effect on the quality of colostrum supplied by the cow. I would typically give cows 0.5kg of soya per day for the three or four weeks before calving. Knowing your silage quality and particularly its mineral status, energy and protein profile will allow you to balance it properly.

New Year to-do lists

A new year always sees the beginning of a very busy period on Suckler and Beef farms and the list of jobs can be endless. Calving will be high on the agenda for many but try not to take your eye of other things that may need to be done around now. Tasks both in the farmyard and around the rest of the farm must be tended to.

All going well the grazing season is not too far away. Most beef farms will be targeting a turn-out date in mid-March or thereabouts. With the volume of grass in paddocks at present this could be much earlier in 2019. Obviously, turn-out will be dependent on grass availability, land type, stocking density and the weather conditions. Don’t forget to tend to fencing before turn out. There are always plenty of stakes to replace and boughs of trees to clear away after the winter.

Beef Plan Movement

I attended the Tipperary meeting of the Beef Plan Movement in Holycross earlier this week.

There were close to 200 farmers in attendance and you really could get the sense of frustration within the room. Basically, the feeling in the room was that the Beef farmer has been pushed aside by most in the industry.

The processors and the retailers are making all of the profit out of our stock while we the livestock producer pick up the crumbs. Producers need to try and take some level of control back as we are now price takers where every available excuse is used to cut the price of cattle.

There was particular frustration regarding the grid being used as a means of penalising cattle as opposed to its original purpose of rewarding quality. Issues around the BDGP scheme were also discussed along with the influence bull calves from dairy herds were having on the beef trade. Some interesting ideas as to how beef farmers can stay viable or maybe that should be return to viability were discussed.

Interesting times ahead for the beef industry perhaps!

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