Unhitching the feed truck last week was a bittersweet moment.
The last of our 2020 born heifers had gone to the factory. They were all Belgian blues and averaged 21 months old. They were out in the fields until Christmas.
When we brought them in we put them on the same diet as the suckler cows for the sake of simplicity.
When the last 16-month-old bulls went to the factory at the end of January, we gradually switched these heifers to bull feeding. So they have been fed intensively for about 80 days.
The nice thing is that hopefully the car will be parked until September when the cycle starts again.
The other side of the coin is less bitter than emotional. These heifers were the last Belgian blues to be sold from the farm. They weighed an average of 336 kg and ranged from 313 kg to 426 kg.
For the past five years we have taken breeding the herd in a different direction, using Stabilizer bulls and breeding our own replacements from the herd.
This is partly because the type of heifer we wanted to breed was becoming increasingly difficult to find. The ones available were a bit too milky for my taste at the expense of their beef properties.
We have been using Belgian Blues as final sires for over 30 years and I still think that when crossed to a good square Limousin cow they can’t be beat for confirmation and progeny growth.
I still believe they are a “bred to be fed” breed and are probably the best suited animal of all to finish as a young bull.
All cows have had their second vaccination on a two-shot Salmomnella program because one heifer and one cow tested positive last year. They now require an annual booster vaccination while the pregnant heifers require two vaccinations.
With the huge increase in fertilizer prices, we sat down earlier this year to come up with a plan to deal with the situation. We set a budget and promised to stick to it.
As far as tillage is concerned, we felt there was no choice but to spread the same amount as in normal years. The only change we made is that we applied 46 part urea instead of regular nitrogen. The harvest is looking good.
Because high-quality silage is the backbone of the cows’ diet over the winter, we used a combination of 18-6-12 and urea in similar amounts to other years.
When the first cut is safely in the pit we will re-evaluate the silage situation to see how much second cut we can get away with, keeping in mind that we should have enough straw and oats to make up any deficits .
But I think we’ll still need a fair amount of second cut and that needs to get enough fertilizer to get a decent harvest.
The area where we have saved fertilizer is the grazing area. We applied 1½ sachets of 18-6-12/ac in two applications, followed by half a sachet of urea a few weeks later. That’s all the chemical fertilizer we’re going to put on the pastures.
We’re comfortable enough for grass at the moment, but a bit of gentle rain wouldn’t go astray.
A group of cows and calves grazing in a rotation of seven paddocks began to crowd a little in the grass. Because these cows were raising bull calves and our priority is to keep enough grass in front of these calves to maximize their performance, we weaned 30 percent of it.
This relieves this grazing area and we can already see an improvement in the grass supply in front of them.
We weaned them rather unscientifically. We just brought them into the yard and picked out 30 percent of the fattest cows.
If we think that any of the other groups raising bull calves are also running out of grass, we will take out some of the cows as well.
Normally we would not wean for another month. In previous years we simply applied more fertilizer!
On a positive note some of these cows and calves have been out to pasture for two months and the calves have really given strength I think. They could be one of the best batches of calves we have produced in terms of weight per age.
That would have a lot to do with the high dry matter content of the grass they ate.
Hopefully we can keep that up for the rest of the grazing season and surpass our average carcass weight of 400kg for our under 16 month bulls.
Robin Talbot farms in Ballacolla, Co. Laois with his mother Pam and wife Ann
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/beef/beef-advice/robin-talbot-why-i-am-through-with-belgian-blues-even-though-they-are-the-best-breed-to-finish-as-young-bulls-41606481.html Robin Talbot: Why I’m through with Belgian Blues – even though as young bulls they are the best breed