With the mid-winter (or should I say mid-summer in European terms) holiday now a distant memory and the spring rush on farm now winding down, it’s time to reflect on the calving period and look forward in anticipation to the huge spring flush that is about to happen…. well the signs are certainly there, that’s for sure! My early morning starts at the dairy, while Sam moves the springers, and then my subsequent calf feeding are coming to an end as things settle down. Only 4 newish calves to feed in the barn as they await their relocation to their new home on the beef rearing block, 5 springers to move in the paddock, and 2 mobs of older calves to feed on the mobile feeder. I am almost back in the house before it gets light, although I say almost, as the days are certainly lengthening and the promise of spring and then summer is just around the corner. Hence the opportunity to pen this blog before breakfast on this fine sunny morning!
We synchronised our heifers for the first time last spring so we could AI them; they are away up the road on a grazing block. The reasons were twofold. Firstly, we wanted to get some early AI calves to rear for a greater genetic gain, which enabled us to get more of our lower BW cows in calf to a beef bull, which also helped us cut down on the number of bobby calves. Secondly, it meant that there were over 50% of our heifers calving prior to the main herd, and all in a matter of days. This was convenient because there is a bit more time to spend training them in the dairy, alongside a few early calved or slipped cows. Calves born from heifers are smaller for sure, but having them calve prior to the herd just gave them that little bit longer to grow and get a head start before the big bolshie Friesians turn up! We were tempted to inseminate the heifers to a Kiwi x bull, but resisted the temptation and stuck with Jerseys. I would be interested to hear if anyone does use Kiwi x on their heifers?? With mating looming we are planning to repeat this exercise.
I mentioned last year that we also used Wagyu semen for some of our lower BW cows, along with Hereford for the low BW Friesians, and frozen sexed semen for some of the higher BW cows. Big tick for the Wagyus; the only issue sometimes is that they seem a bit harder to teach to drink on the calfeteria, and identification can be tricky as they look just like crossbred calves.
Big tick also for the short gestation, easy calving Herefords in the lower BW cows. No real calving issues and a good strong market for these at a week old. Not such a big tick for frozen sexed semen. We have had good results in the past from using fresh sexed semen, but frozen has a wee way to go as the conception rate is still lower. We are tempted to use fresh sexed semen again, but the bull team as I see it is not quite as strong. I think we will just stick with bull of the day and make sure we inseminate enough of them to get our replacements. At least the Friesian bull market has been reasonably strong also, and the calves don’t need to be sold as bobbies.
While we are still on the subject of mating, the plan this year is to use Flashmates for the first time on the herd. This came about at this year’s fieldays when we had a moment of weakness while visiting the Gallagher stand and succumbed to the pressure of a smooth talking salesman…. Fortunately, we had the common sense to avoid the John Deere site! However, we had been thinking about giving these a go as we plan this year to join the increasing numbers of farmers that use AI all the way through and have no bulls on farm. Reducing the M. bovis risk is a big driver for this, and the fact that Sam is now our contract milker means he’s the one that has to draft cows for 10 weeks! I don’t feel too bad about this, as you may remember Sam went away and married Alice last year in the middle of mating time, so it’s kind of payback time. Did I mention in a blog last year that Sam got married? I don’t remember….Anyway, getting back on subject, if, for whatever reason, we get the jitters we will bring some bulls in.
Looking back at the last couple of months in other matters, it seems that most farmers would agree that this calving season wasn’t as difficult as last year. Yes, it was wet, but usually we had longer fine spells as well. Cow condition was good which meant less animal health problems. However, we did have a vet out reasonably frequently, although one vet in particular often didn’t make it to the farm dairy and detoured to our other house, where our daughter lives! As it turns out, it wasn’t the fact that her dogs were sick after all, there were other, more sinister, reasons…..luckily some discreet Facebook stalking eventually highlighted the fact that there was more going on up there than tending to sick chihuahuas!! The colourful branding on the Vetora utes is so easy to spot, great advertising I reckon!!
Time to get ready and head off into the world of real estate. I must say, on those rainy, cold, horrible days, it’s quite nice to sit in a warm office and work on listings and agreements and all those other things that make up the life of a rural salesperson. However, looking at this beautiful day outside right now I’m thinking that some on-farm visits may be the go today! It’s far too nice to sit inside! Enjoy this time between calving and mating and make sure you get a break off the farm.