March is the time to tend to calving cows – Teagasc
March brings grass growth, time to spread fertiliser and tend to calving cows.
- Spring Grazing – Grazed grass is the highest quality and cheapest feed on farms in spring. Every effort needs to be made to utilise this grass by grazing livestock.
The advantages of spring grazing are high average daily gain (ADG), reduced feed costs, less straw bedding, lower labour requirements, increased silage quality and a longer grazing season etc. It is best to graze off heavy grass cover before applying bagged Nitrogen or slurry.
- Early Turnout – Not all animals need to be turned out together at the same time. Groups of animals should be prioritised for early turnout e.g., yearlings and replacement heifers. If weather is dry with favourable underfoot conditions, allow these animals out in small groups for early spring grazing.
- Slurry Utilisation – Slurry is an excellent source of N, P and K. Maximum uptake of these nutrients by grass occurs in spring. Use slurry wisely to replace costly chemical fertiliser and target index 1 and 2 soils with slurry. Apply slurry to bare paddocks and grazed silage fields before closing them for first-cut silage and this will increase digestibility of silage.
- Nitrogen – As temperatures rise, apply half a bag of Urea (46% N) per acre when soil temperature rises to a consistent six degrees centigrade from early March onwards. Alternatively, a compound fertiliser can be applied where P and K is known to be low.
- Hygiene at Calving – Good hygiene reduces disease risk and calf mortality. Clean and power wash calving boxes prior to the start of the calving season on the farm. After each successive calving, thoroughly clean and disinfect each box. Good hygiene helps prevent the build-up of infective micro-organisms such as Cryptosporidium.
- Straw – Don’t skimp on straw at calving time. Fresh, clean straw provides heat and warmth for young calves in calving boxes and creep area.
- Hydrated Lime – Can be used as an additional disinfectant in the creep area.
- Colostrum for Calves – Cow’s colostrum is an excellent source of antibodies, protein, heat and energy. Encourage the calf to suckle as soon as possible after birth. Calves require at least 10% of their bodyweight in colostrum in the first 12 hours of life. A calf should get 3 litres within an hour of birth and a further 3 litres within six hours.
- Energy – Calved cows, heifers calving for the first time, will need an energy boost to meet the demands of lactation. Depending on silage quality, feed at least 2kg per head/day of a high energy, 16/18% Crude Protein ration until turnout.
- BVD Testing – Arrange with a DAFM approved laboratory to test tissue samples and return results. Any calf testing positive for BVD should be removed from the herd immediately as they are a source of infection to other bovines on farm.
- Tagging Calves – Calves should be tagged within seven days of birth, and registered within twenty days of tagging. Make a habit of writing up the Herd Register/blue book after each registration. Registrations can also be completed through the Department’s online facility.
By Anthony O’Connor, Teagasc Adviser, Galway/Clare Regional Unit