February farming – 12 key points to remember at calving time

February brings daffodils and crocuses, plus the start of calving and the arrival of lambs on Irish farms.

Grassland:

  • Early Turnout – Prioritise lighter stock for turnout on grazing fields with heavy grass covers for example yearlings, replacement heifers and stores. Graze silage fields before closing them for first cut silage and avoid poaching fields.
  • Early Grass – For early grass, apply half a bag of Urea (46% N) per acre when consistent soil temperature rises to 6 degrees centigrade (normally mid-Feb to early March). Alternatively, apply a light cover of slurry to bare paddocks. Again, a compound fertiliser can be applied in fields where P and K are known to be low.

Beef:

  • Yearlings/Stores – Where silage quality is 60% DMD or less, feed at least 2kg per head/day of a high energy, 16% CP ration. Cease feeding concentrates 4 weeks prior to turnout. Replacements – Maintain thrive in replacement weanling heifers as they are the future of your herd. They should be getting preferential treatment and aiming for an average daily gain of 0.6kg per head/day.
  • Calving – Preparation is the key. Have calving boxes clean and disinfected (1 calving box per 10 cows). Don’t skimp on straw for a very young or new born calf. Check the basic calving equipment e.g. calving gate, calving jack, 2 sets of clean soft nylon ropes, disinfectant, lubricant, buckets with a teat, stomach tube, iodine etc. Thoroughly wash, disinfect and dry each calving box after each calving. This will prevent the build-up of harmful microorganisms such as Cryptosporidia.
  • Exercise – where possible exercising cows and heifers prior to calving helps to reduce calving difficulty. Move cows due to calve into pens/loose housing closest to calving boxes 10 days in advance of calving.
  • Frozen Colostrum – Organise some for emergencies at calving time. Milk some from early calving cows (avoid first calvers). Store this in a deep freeze in milk containers. It can be defrosted in warm water when needed, never defrost colostrum in a microwave.
  • Energy – Calved cows and especially heifers, will need an energy boost to meet the demands of lactation. Depending on silage quality, you may need to feed at least 2kg per head/day of a high energy, 18% crude protein ration until turn out to grass.

Farm Management:

  • Fencing – Check all fencing, carry out any repairs necessary. This should be done in advance of turnout of any stock.
  • Soil Samples – Taking soil samples will establish the nutrient status of your land. Samples should be taken before fertiliser or slurry is applied to fields. Follow recommendations of your Teagasc Advisor or agricultural consultant. Apply slurry, FYM to fields low in P and K. Spread any Lime needed as early as possible in spring.
  • Calf Registrations – Ensure to keep to the 27-day timeframe for registering calves. A common error in previous years was farmers holding off registering individual calves until they had a number of calves born to register. This is increasing the risk of potential penalties at farm inspections. Also, late notification of calf births are used as a risk criteria when the Department is selecting herds for Cross Compliance inspections. Registrations can be completed through the Departments online Agfood facility. View DAFM website for details.
  • Lost Cattle Tags – All cattle must have a yellow cattle identity tag on each ear at all times. Check stock for lost tags while they are still indoors. Order replacement tags immediately and retag animals as soon as possible.

Farm Safety:

  • Calving Aggression – Cows may become aggressive in protecting their young after calving. Ensure cow is safely secured. Remain vigilant at all times. Cows showing prolonged calving aggression (longer than a few days) should be culled once their calf has been weaned (preferably slaughter).

By Anthony O’Connor, Teagasc Adviser, Galway/Clare Regional Unit

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