Virtual Farm Walk: Calf health is your wealth

The fifth and final video of our Virtual Farm Walk on Martin Connolly’s farm – before we dive further into Martin’s enterprise during a panel discussion – hones in on the importance of calf health.

With a wealth of experience in rearing calves, Martin Connolly realises the importance of keeping calves as healthy as possible over the rearing stage, and the impact that can have on the latter stages of the production system.

On the Roscommon-based holding, the basics in terms of: sourcing calves from a few known sources; optimising the calf-rearing environment; using the correct feeding regime; and regular health checking are all done well.

The 120 calves he rears each spring are sourced from three-to-four local dairy farmers with whom Martin has built up a good relationship with over the years.

Knowing how the calves were managed from birth to sale – as well as any problems there were – helps to make the transition between the two farms as stress-free as possible; this minimises the health problems that could potentially occur.

The calf shed is bedded with a deep bed of barley straw before the calves arrive and is topped-up regularly, ensuring that the calves always have a clean, dry lie.

Doors and air inlets can be adjusted where necessary to allow for increased control of the environment inside the shed as weather conditions change.

The calves also have free access to clean water and concentrates from the get-go, with troughs cleaned regularly along with the milk feeding equipment.

As the calves are fed, Martin takes time to observe them as they drink and eat meal, allowing him to identify sick calves as early as possible before treating them effectively.

To add to this, a comprehensive vaccination programme for pneumonia, IBR and clostridial disease has been put in place with the help of MSD Animal Health Ireland; this is having a huge positive effect on calf health.

Having weighed up the €20/calf cost of the vaccination programme versus: the antibiotic usage saved; the time saved treating sick calves; and the increased performance of the calves – particularly the bottom third of calves – Martin is happy that implementing this vaccination programme will be a central part of his calf health plans for years to come.

Having already seen an increase in calf performance due to improved herd health, Martin expects this effect to have an even greater benefit in terms of performance of these cattle during their second grazing season and finishing stage.

Whereas in previous years, a cohort of finishing bulls would perform below that of what is required as a legacy of having been setback by pneumonia in earlier life.

Martin is expecting next year’s finishing bulls to be far more uniform in their performance and achieve a higher average carcass weight as a result.

Again, Martin is available to answer any questions you may have on his system on the Teagasc Beef social media platforms – Facebook and Twitter.