The breeding bulls are out with their cows and heifers and the portions are recorded. The plan is to keep her in for eight weeks and no longer.
We lamb the ewes and calve the cows at the same time, making sleep a valuable commodity. But the lengthening of the calving season makes it difficult to monitor one or two cows long after the others are happily grazing with their calves.
The fattening bulls are finished under 16 months of age and late born calves complicate the system too much – when feeding small late born bulls have to be kept separate from the main group.
We also calve our heifers at 24 months of age and again small, late born calves are excluded from selection to be kept as breeding substitutes.
Many mother farmers across the country are on the verge of letting their bulls out with their cows.
With the way the costs have escalated, the breeding season needs to be given some serious thought. Cost per cow continues to rise and feed could run out by March next year.
The economics of late born calves have always been questionable, but the financial challenges breast milk farms face now pose larger and more expensive questions that each of us must answer individually as every farm is different.
The easiest way to solve the problem is to take the bull away on a fixed date, but where to house the bulls for the rest of the year can be a problem on some farms.
The much-maligned BEAM program asked farmers to reduce cattle manure production by 5 percent. I was concerned with the question of how to achieve this reduction without reducing the number of calves born.
Prior to BEAM, all cows and heifers were scanned in the fall, with those not pregnant being placed on a fattening ration for the winter and thus remaining on the farm for the better part of an additional five months.
The current plan is simple. Scan the cows the same day the bull is taken out. This allows the bull to be released back onto pasture with the cows, which are scanned during calf, rather than keeping them separated in a paddock or stall.
Not all cows will scan the calf at this point, but the majority should. The few that are not pregnant are kept with young stock and rescanned four weeks later, with the confirmed pregnant cows returning to the main herd.
The cost of rescanning a small number of cows is tiny compared to the cost of winter feed.
This means that by mid-August all cows have an accurate expected calving date and we are in control of when the calving season ends with no late calves.
Empty cows are fattened off the grass, supplemented with something as simple as pearl barley, without having to use up expensive winter feed.
This will improve efficiency on the farm and reduce the herd’s carbon footprint. It’s also an easy way to train weaners to eat meals.
If there are plans to tighten the calving spread and remove late calvers, additional heifers will need to go to bull to maintain cow herd numbers.
Given the value of good beef culling cows, it makes economic sense to now keep additional 14-month-old heifers with the sire to replace the non-pregnant cows that will be sold in the fall.
Late calving is a significant cost to the more productive cows and should not be considered when there are options that are economically advantageous.
Too often, when discussing sales prices, we forget that the late-born calves had to be overwintered because they were too young to earn any money at all.
The average selling price (whether finished beef or weaned) is the only price that matters. Picking a few of the best prices and ignoring the lowest ones, which are often the late born calves, will not improve farm profitability.
We use the same breeding rules for our veal and lamb seasons, with strict end dates in place for both. It is important to ask: “Who is in charge, the cows or the farmer?”.
It is easy to forget the difficulties associated with an extended calving season in three or four months, so there should be a fixed date for when the bull comes out with the cows on the day he comes in.
Angus Woods is a drywall builder in Co Wicklow
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/comment/angus-woods-whos-in-charge-the-cows-or-the-farmer-and-late-born-calves-can-be-more-trouble-than-theyre-worth-41619981.html Angus Woods: Who’s in charge, the cows or the farmer? – and late-born calves can be more trouble than they’re worth