Autumn management of the suckler herd

Now is the time to pregnancy diagnose spring-calving cows, according to CAFRE, the Northern Ireland agricultural advisory service.

It advises to cull those not in-calf and poor performing or older cows in beef herds. Wean calves earlier from cows identified for culling, thinner cows and first calvers and an alternative to weaning is to fit nose plates to calves in a cow group that you wish to stop suckling. This allows those cows not suckling time to build up condition on good grass covers before housing or culling, it says.

Suckler cows, particularly cows with younger calves and reaching peak milk yields, are always at risk of magnesium deficiency. Cows require magnesium on a daily basis, especially when under stress and grazing lush swards during poor weather. CAFRE’s advise is to feed 60g per cow per day of calcined magnesite through a high magnesium concentrate. On extensive grazing areas use a magnesium bolus and provide high magnesium blocks or licks. Pasture dusting can also be used and works well on rotationally grazed areas.

Managing suckling calves

Gradually increase creep feeding of suckled calves while maintaining access to good sward covers (2,600-3,000kg dry matter per hectare or 9-11cm high).  Limit continental cross calves to a maximum of 2.5kg per bull and 1.5kg per heifer per day.

It advises to start your pneumonia vaccination programme now in consultation with your vet and says to separate January to March born heifer calves from the stock bull and bull calves to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

Autumn grazing management

Nitrogen fertiliser can still be applied up to September 15. Apply 40kg nitrogen per hectare (30 units per acre) on younger swards and drier areas to provide extended grazing for young cattle and sheep, CAFRE advises.

If ground conditions deteriorate on heavier soils, avoid poaching by housing cows and heavier cattle. If suitable housing is near to grazing areas allow suckled calves or lighter cattle daily access back to a dry grazing area.This should have good grass covers of 2,800-3,000kg dry matter per hectare and ideally block graze with electric fencing including a back fencer. Moving the grazing blocks every one to three days avoids poaching damage and allows grass to recover.

Management Notes are prepared by staff from the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE).