There’s no rush to move stock indoors
The good spell of weather over the past few weeks means there is still a lot of grass on many farms. Conditions are excellent for grazing with surfaces still hard and dust still rising. Any significant rain at this stage of the year will see soil conditions deteriorate and as a result grass utilisation will decrease on most land types. Paddocks are being grazed out very well at present, setting them up well for next spring. At this time of year, grass is low in dry matter, low in energy and high in protein. This means it is of low feed value and this must be taken into account when deciding what animals should remain out to graze it.
Many suckler farms will still only have some of their stock indoors, if any. However, housing is not far away once all of the grass has gone or weather conditions deteriorate. Management of a suckler herd changes a lot once indoors. Most sucklers seem to calve without assistance when outdoors. Once indoors, with less exercise and a typically lower plain of nutrition, cows are often slower to calve and sometimes require assistance.
Late spring/summer calvers with calves
Cows still with calves at foot must be fed accordingly. Try to supply sufficient energy for milk production remembering she is also growing her next calf. If cows are in good condition at housing their diet should aim to maintain that condition up to drying off. A silage test will allow you devise the nutritional requirements more accurately.
Autumn calver’s diet indoors
Cows with young calves must supply sufficient milk to grow the calf well while also requiring energy to go back in calf. Again, silage results should determine if these cows require supplementation or not once housed. In most cases, supplementation will be required this winter as silages are testing poorly, while silage may also be in short supply.
Indoor calving — just how appropriate is your setup?
Are your handling facilities appropriate for sucklers? Some suckler cows can get very aggressive around calving and can be very protective of their offspring. Most farms now have a purpose built calving gate which restrains the cow at calving if necessary. These gates are also ideal for getting a calf started suckling safely. Check that your calving jack is in full working order and the ropes are close at hand. A source of cold water in the calving box is also handy to help resuscitate a calf after a difficult calving. Ensure the calving camera is working to avoid un-necessary visits to the shed disturbing cows and particularly heifers in the process of calving. Sucklers can get stressed around calving if disturbed.
Calving Box preparation
It is a good idea where possible to clean out and disinfect calving boxes between calvings. How easy is it to access calving boxes to clean them out? Do you need to update your calving facilities to make it safer for you and your stock and healthier for them also? Hygiene around calving is critical for subsequent calf health.
Getting your calves off to a good healthy start
Getting ample colostrum into a calf soon after calving provides much needed antibodies. This will help to boost the calves’ natural immune response further reducing the incidence of disease. If you have vaccinated for scour, it will be of no benefit if you don’t get sufficient colostrum into calves in the first few hours after birth. Where possible get the calf up and drinking ASAP and monitor their suckling activity in the first few hours.
Once a cow has calved indoors it is ideal if facilities allow you to leave the cow and calf in a single box for as long as possible. This will allow first calvers in particular to bond with their offspring and get used to the calf suckling. It also allows you to monitor the cow’s intake and reduce the risk of any metabolic disorders which may occur soon after calving.
Calf creep facilities
When the cow and calf return to the main herd it is important that the pens are not overcrowded. Most suckler cows are housed on slats or cubicles and with either it is best praccritical tice from an animal performance point of view that calves have access to a separate creep area.
A calf creep area doesn’t need to be to elaborate but should provide the basics of a warm, dry, clean bed with access to feed and clean water. Independent dairy and beef nutrition consultant Brian Reidy, Premier Farm Nutrition, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
At Ballina Mart, Sean Bourke, Ratlacken Suckler, Best Heifer U-36monthssponsoredby Dunleavy Meats, and presented by mart manager, Billy loftus.