‘Passion for producing top-quality weanlings’

Dr Dan Ryan visited a number of farmers in the south west and saw the passion that suckler farmers have for the production of top-quality weanlings.

‘When will the rain stop?’, ‘Grass growth is three weeks behind’’, The slurry tanks are full and land is too wet to get slurry out’ and ‘Thank God Kerry were under quota and we will get our milk cheques’.

These were typical of discussion points at farm visits this week. Thankfully the days are getting longer and milder. As one farmer put it: ‘it would put a spring in your step and fire in your belly’.

Visiting a number of farms, primarily in Cork, Kerry and Limerick, issues I saw included prebreed scanning of cows for spring breeding programmes, pregnancy ageing and sexing for autumn calving. Farmers are also assessing maiden heifers for the use of sexed semen using the ScanMan technology to identify the stage of the heat cycle and those heifers unsuitable for use of sexed semen.

The week began with farm visits near Castlemaine Co. Kerry and the remainder of the day on the Dingle peninsula. We had a mixture of dairy and suckler farm visits, including one pedigree Kerry cow herd. With the quota year finishing that day, Kerry Co-Op was determined to collect milk from all farms as they were under quota. This was a welcome relief for a number of the dairy farms visited who had their quota full since last July.

Early turnout to grass would be a feature of grass based milk production on the Dingle peninsula. Grass growth rates are approximately three weeks behind schedule. Farmers have to extend the first rotation by buffer feeding with silage and concentrates. However, many farmers grazed out their farms into December last year because of good grazing conditions.

Poor uterine repair among March-calving cows was a predominant feature this week. Mismanagement of nutrition in the dry cow period was the primary causative factor. We encountered a mix of over-conditioned and under-conditioned cows. The feeding of poor quality mycotoxin-contaminated silages to dry cows was also a causative factor. The late calving cows are the most neglected animal on the farm. Excuses are made that ‘we have plenty of replacements which currently are not in great demand’. Remember that these late calvers could be your most profitable livestock unit.

Farm visits to Kilgarvan, Kenmare, Castletownbere and Sneem showed me the passion that suckler farmers in this region have for the production of top-quality weanlings. They aim to produce stock using AI predominantly. This enterprise is primarily part-time which is subsidised by off-farm income and indeed the Single Farm Payment. The breeding of top quality stock has maintained social interaction between farmers. The scenery on the Beara peninsula is fabulous and contains many hidden gems which are not readily encountered by the tourist.

Finally, farm visits in Co. Limerick revealed that grazing cows is currently not feasible because of the heavy soils which are saturated with rainfall since Christmas. These farmers do not consider any opportunity for further expansion post 2015 because of land availability, farm fragmentation, availability of skilled labour, risks of additional investment and stress associated with extra stock.

Dr. Dan Ryan is a cow fertility expert and can be contacted at www.cowsDNA.com

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