Restricting cows and calf birth weight

XHaving cows fit and not fat at calving will certainly reduce your incidence of calving difficulty. But will restricting cows pre calving help to reduce the birth weight of calves? Several experiments in Teagasc Grange have looked at this, where the actual quantity of feed offered, or the quality, was reduced. A summary table of one experiment is listed below where two different silage qualities were offered to young cows pre calving.

The results all point to a similar outcome:

low levels of feeding during the last one- third of pregnancy will NOT result in predictable effects on calf birth weight or calving difficulty; and,

suckler cows will use their reserves to buffer the nutrient supply to the calf.

Be careful not to over restrict cows pre calving. Allowing cows to get too thin will only serve to delay the cow's ability to resume breeding after calving.

Finishing Cattle

Indoor finishing is expensive and therefore a high rate of gain is required to cover feed and other costs. Since feed is the major cost, the relationship between feed cost and the rate of carcase gain is a key factor in determining profit margin. Since most of the animal’s feed intake goes towards body maintenance, you only start to recover the cost of feed when the animal begins to gain weight. A high rate of carcase gain is needed to minimise the proportion of feed going towards maintenance and maximise the amount available for carcase gain. For example, the daily feed cost of a 650 kg steer on high quality silage plus 5 kg concentrates is estimated at €2.12, (silage at €144 / tonne DM; meal at €235 / tonne fresh weight). At a daily liveweight gain of 1.0 kg per day and 0.66 kg carcase, the feed cost per kg of carcase gain is €3.20. If the same animal is underperforming at 0.8 kg liveweight per day, 0.52 kg carcase, then the cost per kg of carcases gain increases to €4.08 and so when other costs are added you are likely to be in a loss-making situation.

A decrease of 0.2 kg in liveweight gain would hardly be noticed on a large animal in the absence of weighing but would delay the sale date by about a month and increase the cost of finishing by about €64 / head in feed cost alone.

Jobs to do in January

Assess the spring calvers to see what body condition is like. A cow calving in February/March should have a body condition score of 2.5. Thin cows should be grouped and fed accordingly.

The longer the time between calving and turnout the more pressure the spring calver will be under. Thin cows with average silage will need supplementation with 2-3 kg/day just to help maintain body condition before turnout. First calvers may need to be separated out from mature cows and fed as a group to ensure that they get proper access to feed.

Make sure you are feeding a good quality dry cow mineral at least six weeks pre calving.

The real impact of poor mineral status will be on calf viability. If you are dusting it over the silage you will need to feed 100- 120g/cow/day.

If you have had problems with calf scour in the past then cows should be vaccinated. Depending on the vaccine you should be vaccinating four to 12 weeks pre calving.

Check if you have all the equipment needed around calving. Is the calving jack working properly? Do you need new calving ropes? Have you plenty of iodine, calving gloves, calving gel? Are the cameras in the calving shed working? Have you any frozen colostrum? Do you have a good stomach tube?

Derogation Applications 2016

If you applied for a nitrates derogation last year you need to submit fertiliser and feed records for 2015 and make a new application by March 31st. The documents required are:

Meal statements for 2014.

Estimated tonnes of feed purchased in 2015.

Fertiliser statement for 2015.

Any results for soil analysis completed in recent months.

Gather the information now and get it in to the Teagasc office because when calving commences you will be too busy and it may be forgotten or done too late.

If you are exporting slurry every year, your stock numbers have increased or you have less land available then you probably need to apply for a derogation. If you are applying for a derogation for the first time you will need to have soil analysis. Let your adviser know that you will require a derogation plan now so that everything can be done on time.

Assess your risk for 2013

January is a good month to check your farm for hazards and risks before the busy spring season. The law requires that a risk assessment be updated annually, or when significant changes related to health and safety occur in the workplace. Remember, work organisation is essential to prevent injury, as human factors such as rushing are a major hazard. Challenge yourself: make a list of health and safety issues and tackle them. Risk assessment documents are available from Teagasc, or use the online risk assessment tool for farmers – Also, can you include the topic on your discussion group’s agenda for 2016?

Important Events

Teagasc Spring Grazing Farm Walks

A Teagasc Spring Grazing Farm Walk will take place on the farm of PJ O’Keefe, Callan, Co. Kilkenny on Monday January 25th and on the farm of Conor Beausang, Churchquarter, Grange, Co. Waterford on Tuesday January 26th. Both walks will commence at 11.00am and run for 90 minutes. Teagasc advisers, and researchers will discuss early turnout, fertiliser use, spring rotation planner and grazing in difficult conditions. All are welcome.

Teagasc Forestry Advisory Clinic.

Teagasc Forestry adviser John Casey will hold forestry advisory clinics in the Teagsc office Dungarvan on Thursday January 28th by appointment. This is an opportunity to avail of a free one to one consultation, receive independent advice and up to date information on forestry. To make an appointment phone 058 41211.