Last week we scanned the autumn-calving cows. I think scanning is a much underrated service and great value for money.
ost scanners charge €3-5 per cow depending on numbers. If the cows are at the correct stage of pregnancies, a good scanner can detect the calving date and the spread of calving across a number of weeks or months.
The most important information is to find the empties and the odd set of twins so these animals can be separated and fed accordingly.
We got the spring-calving cows scanned in October and the results were very good — only two not in calf.
The autumn batch was more mixed, as I feared: these cows came under pressure last summer with the drought while rearing their calves. Grass supply was tight on the farm when the bull was introduced to them.
No twins showed up and the empty rate was 20pc. This sounds high, but the bull was only with them for eight weeks as I wanted to tighten the calving spread.
I find that if autumn cows calve too late in the year, the calves are young when entering the sheds with their mothers and need to be observed more after being housed.
There were other reasons I wasn’t too disappointed with the empty rate.
Cow prices for beef or feeding are very good, and look set to get even better. I have penned the empty cows and will feed them and have them ready for beef around late May or early June.
In previous years this has been when cow prices have peaked, probably because numbers are low at that time and manufacturing beef demand is high with summer beginning.
I was concerned that a few of the empties were second calvers. Some of these are well-bred cows, and I reckon they were unable to build enough body condition in the summer, with the drought.
Dairy farmers tell me second calvers often lose ground with getting back in calf.
A lot of farmers focus on the heifers, getting them up to the required weight for their age to have them suitable for breeding. Maybe these animals might need a little bit of TLC to keep them in the herd for a few more years.
While I will have to say goodbye to these second calvers this time there is one cow I am very fond of and I might recycle her into the spring herd for next year. Not all farmers will agree with this move.
On another point it is good to see the Minister has taken the proposed suckler cow exit scheme off the table.
I felt that an exit or cull scheme might distort the market place in the short term and have long-term effects on the quality of cattle produced for different markets.
Some might disagree with me but at least the decision means farmers can now make plans on which direction they will take going forward, with another year of high production costs.
These plans might include exiting the sector, given the high prices of cull cows, or evaluating the number of cows they want to keep going forward and entering the new suckler cow scheme in the coming months.
That’s what I am doing. Looking at the terms and conditions, there are a few more requirements than the old BGDP.
But if you are serious about suckler farming, all these requirements shouldn’t be a problem. In a way it will be a good benchmark to aim for.
John Joyce farms at Carrigahorig, Nenagh, Co Tipperary
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