2016 suckler calving brings more than its share of problems

Calving in spring herds is well under way. Many herdowners are reporting a significant amount of scour in young calves.

Where possible, try to keep older calves away from younger ones, as this contact can be a significant cause of transfer of bugs.

Try to keep calf beds clean and dry, with plenty of straw.

Ensure that calving boxes are cleaned out regularly (ideally between each calving), and that they are limed and disinfected. 

In general, it is best to treat calves with scours without taking calves away from cows. Milk is the best way of rehydrating calves.

Retained cleanings

Along with calf scours, there are also issues with cows in both beef and dairy herds holding cleanings. 

In general, a mineral imbalance in silage is the main cause of retained foetal membranes.

This can be addressed by replacing some of their silage with feeding straw, to dilute down the negative effects of the silage.

Take a close look at your pre-calver mineral, and either source a better quality one, or increase the feeding rate, if cows are holding cleanings. Look at the total diet being fed to dry cows, and address all shortfalls.

Big Calves

There seems to be a lot of higher than normal calving difficulty in suckler and dairy herds.

A lot of casualties due to difficult calvings, as a result of very big calves, is apparent.

But big calves are not the only issue, as many cows are over-conditioned, and their birth canal has large fat deposits restricting the birth of the calf. 

This, in many cases, is due to long dry periods with free access to silage. Even poor quality silages can cause over-conditioned cows at calving, if they are eating it over an extended period of 100 plus days.

This issue needs to be tackled immediately by diluting down the energy supplied from silage. 

The addition of straw to the dry cow’s diet will be the most practical method of doing this on most farms. This will also help to slow down silage usage. 

If you know the quality of your silage, it will make it easier to determine the amount of straw to feed.

Planning for grass

Even with all the rain still lashing down around the country, the hope for many is that grazing is not too far away. 

Unfortunately, opportunities to get out and spread slurry and fertiliser have been few and far between. As a result, it looks like most will have a late spring.

There is a huge cover of grass on many farms, even if they grazed very late in the back-end of 2015. 

This means for most that when the weather settles, turnout can commence quickly.

However those who turned out stock too quickly over the last few years learned a harsh lesson when they ran out of grass.

It is also important to avoid damage to paddocks, while trying to graze them tightly. 

Any excessive damage at this time of year will reduce the paddock’s overall yield for the duration of 2016. The use of a strip wire and back fencing are essential grazing management tools in wet fields.

Fertiliser Application

Obviously, most farmers still have no fertiliser spread this spring. Ground conditions and weather will dictate when this will be possible in each paddock.

With such heavy grass covers, most beef producers will delay application until paddocks are grazed.

It is important that you devise a fertiliser plan based on some science. It is not good enough to just put out whatever you have done for the last few years. 

Soil tests are a critical part of nutrient management. Along with addressing P and K deficits, by applying compound fertilisers, there has been a big increase in the use of trace element fertilisers.

If you have a mineral analysis for your silage, then it should be easy to identify which products will be appropriate for your land.

Trace element applications on grass improve plant health, resulting in improved utilisation of N, P, and K.

The other obvious issue is the soil pH. It has been reported lately that the vast majority of agricultural land in Ireland has a significant lime deficit.


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