Paula Hynes: Gearing up for spring-calving in Aherla

With spring-calving just around the corner, the sleepless nights aren’t too far away, writes Aherla dairy farmer Paula Hynes.
Paula Hynes: Gearing up for spring-calving in Aherla

Becky and Billy. Picture: Chloe Hynes

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail - this is a motto I live my life by and goes back to my love of lists. 

Calving season is an extremely busy time on the farm, and if the preparation isn't done correctly, it can make life more difficult and stressful. 

I find having everything organised in an orderly fashion makes things run more smoothly, and having things to hand means you're not running to the co-op or the vet's for items you use for calving year in, year out.

This week, I pulled out all the teat feeders and single buckets and washed and disinfected them all and purchased new teats to replace the old ones. 

All the single pens and calf sheds got another disinfecting, so they will all be nice and dry when it comes to using them.

I find it imperative that everything is dry before you bed down; in pens with straw, damp conditions are only a breeding space for bacteria and viruses, which is what we need to avoid with newborn calves. 

The milk cart which we purchased last year, to save my back humping buckets of milk up the yard, got a thorough cleaning with boiling water and the good ole washing-up liquid.

I have a hot water heater in the calf shed and the parlour, so I have a constant supply of hot water throughout the calving season. Every bucket and feeder are rinsed with cold water after use and then scrubbed with hot water and washing up liquid, and then get a final rinse with cold water. 

It is time-consuming, but hygiene is so important when it comes to baby calves, a healthy calf is a lot less work than a sick calf, and I keep stressing the importance of this to my girls.

Time is always precious when you are busy with cows calving, so I always make sure I have a brush, a pike, and a wheelbarrow at all the calf sheds and calving boxes to save time having to go looking for them.

I have three big tipping wheelbarrows, and they really save the back as well. I make sure all the tyres are in good working order and also that the calf barrow is ready to go - it really is a great tool for moving newborn calves.

My mini milking machine is a vital component for the spring. It’s a single unit with a bucket, and all you do is plug it in. It works the same way as a cluster in your parlour, so handy if you have a cow calving in the middle of the night to get that all-important colostrum for the calf. 

Another key item is my refractometer, a fantastic invention for checking the quality of your colostrum. 

Good quality colostrum is vital for newborns, as calves aren't born with circulating immunoglobulins, so it depends on the highest quality colostrum to provide it with protection. It’s the single most important thing after birth to ensure the health and productivity of the calf.

No matter how hard you try, you will always have a calf with some issue or another, so I have an isolation box that I can hang a heat lamp from. I only had one, so I decided this year to purchase two more to have as a backup. 

It was invaluable last year with Nuggie. For those of you who don’t know Nuggie, she was the first calf born on the farm last year. 

Her mom Samira was scanned with triplets, and I was very excited at the prospect of having triplets, but sadly it wasn’t meant to be, and Samira ended up giving birth to two mummified calves and little Nuggie.

All three calves were heifers, so it was a shame, but thankfully, we had one healthy calf. Unfortunately, then Samira stood on Nuggie's leg and broke it. 

In true Paula fashion, I rang the vet to see if there was someone there so I could take her in for an x-ray to check the damage. 

I think they thought I was mad, but she was small enough that the dog x-ray would work with her, so I loaded her into the back of the jeep and off I went.

The leg was, in fact, broken, so a cast was applied, and we had many trips to the vet after. 

She became a little celebrity at the local shop, people used to see her in the back of the jeep and come over and say hello, and she was even treated to ice cream on many an occasion. She is big and bold now; very bossy and totally spoiled.

I have made use of one of the new isolation boxes already this year, when I had a Simmental bull calf born without fully developed ligaments in one of his front legs. He is receiving physio every day from my daughter, Becky, and she puts a splint on him to try and strengthen it. 

He now has also been named Billy, along with 'Chocolate' and 'Gingernut', so Lulu - who you met in last week's column - is delighted she has a few friends to play with.

All in all, I had a productive week, and I finally feel that I'm ready for the onslaught of calving - all that’s left to do is refresh the footbaths outside all the calving areas. Our in-calf heifers are springing well now, so the sleepless nights aren’t too far away.

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