Robin Talbot: We had to about turn after turning out the calves
We have a simple rain gauge that someone got as a Christmas present standing in our garden which told us that we had more precipitation in the first five days of March than we had for the entire months of January and February.
We had turned out a small group of cows and calves after their herd test on the last Thursday of February in perfect conditions.
We had to bring them back in two days later with the ground covered in snow.
During the herd test, the sun was beating down, which made the job a little bit more bearable. Thankfully, the test was clear so that’s one big job sorted for another year, hopefully.
We have also completed our scanning of the cows, with 92pc scanned in calf and almost 60pc due in the first 21 days.
While we were happy enough with the results, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Certainly I would like to see the 92pc figure going up to 94-95pc. I wouldn’t be as concerned about the amount of cows calving in the first 21 days.
Because, in reality, if we continue to do our bull calves as beef under 16 months, it would probably be better if there was a more even spread over our 10-week calving period, as it would give a steadier pattern of bull sales.
It seems obvious looking at the cows and their calves that some of the poorer performing cows tend to slip to the end of the calving period.
So something we need to look at into the future is whether we can shorten our calving period a bit more. I expect that would allow us to cull off more of those poorer cows.
We have signed up to the BEEP scheme. So it will be interesting to see what information that throws up.
Even though I wasn’t best pleased that we had to let out some cows without weighing them, simply because our scales couldn’t be registered until early March.
While we were testing, because of joining the BEEP, I paid special interest to the some of the cow and calf units.
My initial observation is that we have some big cows with big calves, and some small cows with big calves and some big cows with small calves and some small cows with small calves.
Obviously the ideal is the small-cow-with-a-big-calf unit. But I suppose the objective from a suckler farmer’s point of view is a breed with a small birth weight and a high average daily weight gain. I think the first breed society to crack that one will corner the market.
We got the results from our soil sampling back a few weeks ago. They didn’t throw up any major surprises. The farm is in reasonably good fertility. Lime seems okay, with a lot of the fields falling into Index 3 for P and K, with the odd “2” or “4”.
So we have blanket spread all the grazing ground with 2cwt of 18-6-12 per acre.
We will repeat that on the next round of spreading. Then it will be just straight N after that.
The winter barley got its first application of fertiliser. We spread 4 cwt of 10-5-25 +S, which gives us 40 units of N to kick it off.
We will probably bring it up to around 150 units of N per acre with Super Net.
As of yet, the winter wheat and winter oats have got no fertiliser.
It will be interesting to see how the oats turns out. It has got quite tall and is starting to look a bit thin. So I’d probably say that it needs a growth regulator as soon as conditions allow.
We have a lot of grass around the home farm at the moment. As the chance presents itself, we will continue to let out cows and calves in small numbers. A few batches of calves have had access to the field 24/7 throughout the winter.
We’ve made a few changes so that they can get access to good grass. It’s great to see how much time they are spending out grazing. And, which I love to see, they are spread out around the field, meaning that they are comfortable and relaxed in their environment. So, hopefully, they are thriving well.
A few fields that we would hope to take first-cut silage from have heavy covers of grass and we will have to make a particular point of grazing them out clean before the end of the month. Though I can’t see that being a problem!
Unless we have a repeat of last spring, it looks like we have enough winter feed.
So, at this stage, I think we have pretty much made up our mind, for next winter, we will continue with the high inclusion rate of straw to the suckler cows, 3kg/head or more.
It is a saving of almost 40 acres of silage. It would then free up some extra land to go into cereals.
Robin Talbot farms in partnership with his mother Pam and wife Ann, in Ballacolla, Co Laois