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James Skehan January Update

Monitoring weight gains in weanlings

Monitoring weight gains in weanlings

  • Weigh weanlings monthly to monitor performance
  • Pen weanlings by weight
  • Stress can cause poor performance, e.g. castration, mixing groups, buying from mart
Monitor cows pre-calving

Monitor cows pre-calving

  • Feeding soya bean meal pre-calving can help boost colostrum quality
  • Separate thin cows and feed ration to build body condition pre-calving
  • Feed pre-calving minerals
Fertiliser Planning

Fertiliser Planning

  • Walk farm & measure grass
  • Calibrate fertiliser spreader
  • Refer to nutrient management plan & order fertiliser


James weighed his weanlings on 29th of December and was surprised with the weights. His weanling heifers (9) averaged 315 kg, gaining 0.67 kg/day since their previous weighing on 22nd of November, which was on target.

His home-bred weanling bullocks (14) weighed 314 kg, gaining 0.42 kg/day since their previous weighing on 22nd of November. However his bought-in bullocks (19) were 270 kg, and only gained 0.15 kg/day. James examined if there was any difference between individual pens, but there did not appear to be. The heifers have their own pen and the bullock weanlings were all grouped by weight and had plenty of feeding and lying space, and he did not notice any cattle being bullied. They were all on the same diet of silage and ration, and had all been dosed and vaccinated as required. James’s own bullocks were castrated on 18th of October, with the bought-in ones castrated at the end of December and were given pain relief for it.

When they were weighed again on 17th of January, the heifers averaged 331 kg, having gained 0.85 kg/day. The home-bred bullocks weighed 338 kg on average, after gaining 1.28 kg/day and the bought-in bullocks weighed 290 kg after gaining 1.02 kg/day which was a substantial increase since the previous weighing.

The stress on the bullocks from being bought in through marts, not having being correctly weaned in some cases, the transport to the farm, mixing with a new bunch of stock, changing diets and castration may have contributed to this lack of performance in their first month on the farm. This will be considered for buying in stock next year to see how this stress can be minimised for them. Without weighing the weanlings monthly, James would not be aware of this issue.

Animal Nutrition

James is now feeding the cows close to calving are now getting 1kg of soya bean meal per head per day to boost colostrum quality.

A pen of 6 thinner cows were picked out before Christmas to start receiving 3kg of meal to build up condition before calving. These are now in good body condition and will be reduced gradually to 1kg of meal and then revert back to ad-lib silage.

He gave the cows and stock bull a bolus on 1st of December. Each cow typically gets a shot of a multi-mineral injection in batches the same day that they are vaccinated with Rotavec Corona. However these will not account for major elements and James is considering feeding bagged minerals on top of silage, which would be fed for 4-6 weeks before calving. Calcium, Phosphorous, Sodium and Magnesium are major elements required before calving. Micro elements are Copper, Selenium, Iodine, Cobalt, Manganese, Zinc are also essential, along with Vitamins A, D3 and E. A lot of minerals also are indirectly related and a deficiency in one can reduce the efficacy of another element. Care needs to be taken with Calcium as it is very abundant and there is usually enough in forages prior to calving.  Too much Phosphorous can prevent Calcium uptake. Copper is essential for enzymes to work, Selenium and Vitamin E are also very important for immune function and to prevent white muscle disease.


James walked his entire farm and measured the grass in all paddocks on 27th of January. His home farm in Ballynevin had an average farm cover of 344 kg DM/ha, with covers ranging from 110 to 649 kg DM/ha.

The out farm in Kilcredan had an average farm cover of 338 kg DM/ha, with covers ranging from 73 to 689 kg DM/ha. Just under 3ha of the land here was reseeded in autumn 2020. This is starting to go yellow so it will be a priority to get slurry (1500 – 2000 gallons per acre) and to be grazed early by the weanlings to encourage tillering.

The main silage block in Clonboy has a cover of 608 kg DM/ha. To improve silage quality, it is recommended that this be grazed before closing up for silage. Depending on weather conditions, it would be worth getting some of the weanlings to graze there, and the others could graze the reseed in Kilcredan. If 16 weanlings were brought over to Clonboy, they would have approximately 2 weeks of grazing which would be a significant saving on silage and ration.

James is very conscious of fertiliser cost and availability this spring. He referred to his nutrient management plan and has purchased enough fertiliser to last him for the spring and for first cut silage, which was mainly protected urea (€920/t) and 18-6-12 (€750/t).

He also purchased a new fertiliser spreader and will be following instructions for calibrating this so that he will be achieving maximum benefits and accuracy for the fertiliser he spreads.