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John Barry November/December Update

Winter housing

Winter housing

  • Vaccinations given to weanlings against respiratory disease and clostridial diseases
  • Measure up feed and lying space for your cattle
  • Ventilation inlet area will be increased to reduce disease risk in sheds over winter
NB to take silage samples

NB to take silage samples

  • Take silage samples for analysis
  • Balance diets for energy and crude protein
  • Supplement cattle based on test results
What are your suckler cow costs for the year?

What are your suckler cow costs for the year?

  • Costs of keeping a suckler cow are much higher this year than last year
  • Cull unproductive cows that are not in calf
  • Factor in higher input costs when considering sales options for this winter / next spring

Animal Health

The autumn born calves were vaccinated against IBR which will be due again in 6 months (April).  They were also given a preventative for coccidiosis, along with another vaccine to protect against RSV, Pi3 and Mannheimia haemolytica. They also got their first clostridial vaccination and will get the booster in the second week of December. 

The plainer bulls were castrated during the week of 10th October.

The spring born weanlings were housed on 26th October and the autumn cows and calves were housed on 1st November on average.

The lying and feeding space calculations were completed for John’s main shed to ensure optimum performance over winter. Each pen for housing the autumn cows should only house 8 cows at a lying space of 3m2/head. There is only sufficient feed space for 7 cows at 0.65m/head when they are receiving ration so John will be feeding them with a plastic barrel at the back of the pen too to ensure adequate space. There are currently too many cows in the pen for adequate lying space but John is hoping to have a different slatted tank roofed in the coming weeks so a new pen will be available to move over extra cows and calves then.

The slatted area for the younger cattle can comfortably hold 13 weanlings/pen at a lying space of 1.7m2/head and as they can be fed from both sides of the pen, they have more than enough feed space at 0.45m/head when getting ration.

The ventilation for the shed was assessed and while the outlet area was sufficient for the shed area and stock numbers, the outlet area is too small. John is finding that this is causing health issues in stock if they are not vaccinated. However this can be simply fixed by adding a 0.3m gap the full length of the shed. This can be done by adding in a new timber at the top of each span and cutting 0.3m at the top of the sheeting along the side of the shed, or else pushing out the sheets 0.3m from the bottom of the wall. Pushing the sheets out from the bottom isn’t practical in John’s case so he plans to create the new inlet at the top instead. Good ventilation happens when enough clean air moves through the shed to remove gasses, odours, dust and bacteria. It should also remove the moisture and heat generated by the animals.

Animal Nutrition

John tested his silage and the results came back as follows:

  • Pit silage: 60.3% DMD at 9.8% crude protein
  • Second cut bales: 67.2% DMD at 11.6% crude protein
  • First cut bales: 68.6% DMD at 12.6% protein

As a result of these results John can balance the diets for stock on his farm. If the autumn calving cows are given the 68.6% DMD silage the will require 4kg of a 14% CP ration to ensure that they have adequate energy and protein. The autumn calves are also getting 0.5kg of a 15% CP ration and will be let out to grass by day over the next few weeks.

The weanlings should get 1.5kg of a 16% CP ration if they are eating the 68.6% DMD silage, and if they are fed the 67.2% DMD silage this would increase to 2kg of an 18% CP ration. 25 more weanlings are yet to be housed.

The spring calvers can be restrictively fed the 67.2% DMD silage, or alternatively will need 1.5kg of a 16% CP ration if they are given the 60.3% DMD silage. In the latter case they will also need 0.5kg of soya bean meal/head/day for 4-6 weeks pre calving.

As 15-20 store cattle will be out wintered on forage rape, their most important dietary requirement is fibre. It is also recommended that they are supplemented for minerals, especially iodine, cobalt, copper and selenium so John has provided a mineral lick bucket to them.


John was considering his spring and autumn calving options as there is a significant workload on the farm all year round, particularly when he is working off farm as well. He has decided to tighten the calving spread in his autumn herd up to 10 weeks and as such will only be breeding for that length of time.

The costs for a spring calving system versus an autumn calving system were also examined for John’s farm. It is costing approximately €1100 to keep a spring calving cow and €1200 to keep an autumn calving suckler cow on the farm. This allows for variable costs of €864 for a spring calving cow and €961 for an autumn calving cow (at this year’s 68.6% DMD silage with 4kg of meal), and fixed costs per head of €262. The variable costs are based on this year’s feed costs; €121/t DM grass, €232/t DM silage and €400/t ration and John’s 2021 profit monitor figures per livestock unit. The fixed costs are also based on his own 2021 profit monitor.

While a larger difference in costs was expected between the autumn and spring calving cows, it is worth noting that an increase in feed quality to >70% DMD silage would further reduce the cost difference between both systems as there would be a reduction in meal required per cow.

However when the costs of John’s typical sales strategies are included (store heifer / store bullock / under 16 month bull) there is less risk in the spring calving system and more chance of making a higher profit than from an autumn born animal. It was also interesting to note that while John is getting over €3/kg liveweight in his bullocks, it does not pay him to finish them at under 16 months of age at current input prices and at the expected sale price. It certainly does not pay to keep unproductive cows either and John has been very practical in selling any cows that are not in calf.