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John Pringle January/February Update 2024

Bull performance – Do the simple things right!

Bull performance – Do the simple things right!

  • Know the targets
  • Good health
  • Good housing
  • Good nutrition
Achieving a calf per cow per year

Achieving a calf per cow per year

  • Right Body Condition Score
  • Right Mineral & Health care
  • Right Environment
  • Colostrum with 2 hours


For any enterprise it is extremely important to set targets – or key performance indicators. This is especially true in a high input system like under 16 month bull beef. Here we need everything to go well to ensure a profit is made.

The key targets for under 16 month bulls are:

  • 350Kg at weaning
  • 500kg on their first birthday
  • Gaining on average 1.6kg/day on finishing diet
  • Finish 700kg with at least 56% kill out


You must start with genetics- an ounce of breeding is worth a ton of feeding, here on John’s farm he has aced that. John’s cows on average are 667kg and weaning a calf that has a 200 day weight 46% of the mature weight. This is being achieved by Milk – with daughter milk at 8.5kg, but his cow is also playing a part from a terminal sides with +18kg carcass. When you talk about a balanced cow, John has the definition.Eurostar indexes for cows

Figure 1: Eurostar summary for John's cows

Cow details from ICBF Weaning performance report

Figure 2: Weaning efficiency of cows

Once the cow has done her job, it is up to John to manage the rest.


Here John does not skimp – the cows are vaccinated for Rota, corona, ecoli and IBR a month pre calving. They are also given a high spec pre calving mineral.The cows calve down in a clean, hygenic shed and are let out to grass as soon as possible. This is why John calves in mid-February.

Pre-weaning the calves get two shots of bovipast, an IBR, start on concentrate and are weaned with the least amount of stress.

There is no fluke on John's farm, so the bulls are dosed at housing with an ivermectin or with a levicide at housing followed by an ivermectin at christmas as levacides do not kill inhibited stomach worms.


They are housed in an open shed on straw bedding, they have loads of lying space > 2.5m2 and have enough feed space.

They are housed on their own, with no heifers or cows to bother them.


The nutrition is simple – at housing they are getting 3kg of a 16% weanling ration and a top quality silage >72 DMD.See test results below. John needs top quality silage for all the finishing stock and the ewe flock. This mean he has to plan, close in late March, apply slurry & fertiliser in early April and cut in early May.

 From Christmas on, the concentrate is increased by 1kg every few weeks until they are on 8-10kg of meal.

Silage sample results

Figure 3: Silage sample results

The proof is in the pudding

As we can see from Johns Bulls performance – his management is working. The bulls are on target for 500kg at a year of age, they are currently 459kg, with a month to go to their average date of birth of the 9th of March.

They are relaxed, stretched out, their dung is solid and they are eating all their meal – all good signs.

Bull weights

Figure 4: Bull weights

Photos of bulls


Calving is fast approaching and the focus is that every cow calves down safely and goes to grass with a live calf.

Like the bulls, it’s important to get the simple things right

Body Condition Score

All the silage is excellent quality this year >74 DMD, on this type silage cows will gain condition and fast. At housing some cows were thin and needed condition, so they were penned separately but all the rest were on “rations”. They were restricted to 80% of their intake. So normally a bale would feed 24 cows or there about per day, so to restrict to 80% the cows were getting a bale every day and a half or so, this was diluted with straw to keep them full.

Thin cows and first and second calvers got silage ad lib. He condition is monitored and if they are putting on too much condition they are moved in to the restricted pen.

Cows in shed

Figure 5: Suckler cows in shed


A good mineral is a god send according to John. With a good mineral a cow will calve down, give you a lively calf, clean, not get milk fever and go back in calf, so it is worth investing in a good one, remembering that, every extra €200 per tonne of mineral will only cost an extra €1.20 per cow for a 60-day period.

Calving starts in Mid-February, so from New Year on John feeds a high spec mineral. It’s a mineral powder as this is the best form to get the major elements like Magnesium, phosphorous and sodium in to the animal. With licks you will have random intake and the boluses only cater for the traces elements.

For john the big figures are

  • Magnesium - at least 17%, as he is in a high potassium area, it would like this to be closer to 25% so when feeding each cow 100grams of powder per day, he would be feeding 25grams of magnesium
  • Phosphorous – 4%
  • Sodium - >13%
  • Copper – at least 2,700mg/kg – and because John has spread a lot of lime, which in high molybdenum areas can lock up copper ideally 1/3 of that should be protected. In this mineral we see 3,000mg/kg and 500 is protected, so it not far off. In the initial four weeks if you feed at 120 grams per day per cow, you will easily reach your target.

This link will lead you to an excellent reference sheet, so you can check your own mineral.

Pre calving mineral

Figure 6: Pre calving mineral

Vaccinations- as said above, the cows get a rota, corona and E.coli vaccine about 4 weeks pre calving, it has to be given between 3 and 12 week pre- calving, this allows for the antibodies to be highest in the colostrum. Before 12 weeks or after 3 weeks you are reducing its efficacy and at ~ €12 per shot, it’s an expensive vaccine to waste. Once the calf gets a good suck, protection against rotavirus will persist for at least 7 days and against coronavirus for at least 14 days.

The cows also get an IBR live vaccine into the muscle, approx. 4 weeks pre calving, this is to reduce the spread in the shed and to give the calves passive immunity for 12 weeks.

There is no liver fluke on the farm, so the cows are not dosed.


The cows are monitored and when their due date approached they are moved to the calving pens. The pens are power housed, disinfected, limed and well bedded. Straw is scarce, so getting to grass and staying minimal time in the shed will reduce the demand on straw and that’s Johns aim.

There is a washroom in the yard, with a sink and hot water to ensure everything is clean and disinfected after use

Once born the calves navels are dipped with Iodine solution, it is vitally important to give the naval a good dip and to ensure you get the end of the navel and not just the stomach. Paper cups can be ideal for this, you dip all the navel in, and pour the rest on the stomach. You then dispose of the cup and this reduces germ build up on the iodine/ Chlorhexidine bottle.  

Naval dipping photos

Figure 7: Naval dipping is very important for newborn calves


This is KEY to John, “get the beastings into the calf as soon as possible”. Ideally john gets the calf up within a half hour of calving and they get their first suck, they could potentially have another suck within the two hour window.

All calves are born with no antibodies and are dependent on immunoglobulins in colostrum. When born, the stomach wall is porous and allows the immunoglobulins pass though

After two hours, the porosity of the stomach wall lining is dramatically reduced, also the quality of colostrum starts to fall after birth, so you really are in a race against time

Remember if antibodies can move through the wall of the intestine so can bacteria.

Importance of colostrum

Figure 8: Antibody absorption of colostrum after birth