The heavily pregnant Hereford cows are testing our patience on the farm this week with no calves on the ground yet. The Hereford breed generally takes about 10-14 days over their time, with the odd cow carrying over an additional three weeks in some cases. It’s a bit of a waiting game and it’s impossible to pin-point exactly when the cows will actually go about calving. We don’t use any Moo-Call devices or any sort of high-fashioned technology so it’s a lot of regular checks every few hours (day and night) to the maternity paddock instead.
It’s exciting to get the next generation of pedigree calves on the ground but the waiting can be a bit tiresome. I’m eager to see what kind of calves we’ll be working with for next year and we’ll be trying to gauge their showing potential from practically the moment they’re born! Obviously, a healthy calf is the number one priority but on a pedigree farm, you always have to try to breed better and better stock each season.
One of the in-calf cows is the mother of our current show calf and another cow won a lot of prizes and championships herself so they’re both high profile brood dams. The three cows are outside near the main yard and should hopefully calve down outdoors. The sheds are cleaned out and ready for use if needed but generally minimal intervention is necessary. A beef cow pays for herself solely on the back of her progeny so it’s vital that everything falls into place and runs smoothly.
The Kilsunny show team is taking a short but well-earned break this weekend. We made a conscious decision at the end of last season to cut down the number of shows we competed at so to not over-work the cattle and make sure that they peaked at the right times over the summer. We show a lot of cattle (we had 13 entries at Clonmel two weeks ago) and most of them are calves or youngstock and extensive and regular showing can really take its toll. The biggest shows with the most significant titles and the most lucrative prize funds will still take priority, followed by our local shows in Tipperary and a few of our favourite smaller shows. The new streamlined strategy is working out well so far with a championship or reserve title at each and every show we’ve exhibited at this summer. The cattle are definitely feeling the benefits and it also gives all of the family more opportunities do other more leisurely activities at the weekends – which is well needed too!
On the dairy side of things, we’ve put the first of the Autumn calving dairy cows dry. These cows are calving in September and have come to the end of their full 305 day lactation. In one sense, it appears counter-productive to set cows dry whilst the grass is at its most plentiful but the fresh milk will be really appreciated when they start calving down for the Autumn and into the winter. The cows were milked once a day with the main herd for a few days before being tubed with antibiotics and teat sealer and being put into a bare paddock to dry up. They’ll stay on minimal grass for the coming week before they start to clean out paddocks after the main herd of dairy cows.
Summer mastitis is the big worry with dry cows at this time of year so we’ll be doing everything to make sure the udder and teats stay healthy for the next lactation. Winter calving is not fashionable at the moment with the continued scientific research pointing more and more towards a totally grass based spring calving system. Every farming enterprise is so different but split calving really pays dividends at Kilsunny. There’s no denying that there is a lot of work but the habit of turning on the milking machine twice a day, every day, is so deeply ingrained at this stage that it’s hard to imagine doing it any other way.
This week, we’ll continue to watch the pregnant cows around the clock and we’ll have to wait and see when the first beef calf of the summer makes an appearance!