Kay O'Sullivan July/August Update 2023
- FEC sampling young stock over the summer period before dosing
- Sign up to the AHI TASAH programme
- Protocol for taking FEC samples
Review of 2023 calving performance
- The last 2 cows have calved
- Analysing the ICBF calving performance report
- Breeding season started on 12th June
- The 2022 born bullocks were weighed on 10th June
- They gained 0.99 kg/day on average since 31st March
- Three are well on target to finish off grass over the summer period
In 2022, Kay had the lowest veterinary bill in the Future Beef Programme at €22/ha. She successfully achieved this figure by taking precautions to prevent animal health issues. One of these measures is taking faecal egg count (FEC) samples regularly and only dosing based on the results.
What stock are FEC sampled?
Weanlings, yearlings and cows.
Weanlings are done monthly over the summer, with yearlings being sampled every two months for gut and lung worms. Cows are tested in October/November for liver fluke, rumen fluke, gut worms and lung worms.
Kay consults with her vet on all FEC sample results. If the threshold exceeds 250 eggs per gram (EPG) she will administer a dose based on the results. It is typically only gut worms that cause an issue on her farm, and she treats young cattle with an ivermectin product. She does not use combination products unnecessarily, as it can help to build anthelminthic resistance. The dosing withdrawal period is tripled for the organic cattle.
Kay signed up to the 2023 Targeted Advisory Service on Animal Health (TASAH) programme, which is a free service that offers two free FEC samples and a farm visit from a vet. Further details and sign up information are available at: https://animalhealthireland.ie/programmes/parasite-control/parasite-control-tasah-consult/.
Kay is fortunate that she has both sheep and cattle on the farm. This means that she can operate a mixed grazing system and has the choice of grouping cattle and sheep together to graze, or else alternate the sheep and cattle paddocks annually. This helps to reduce the worm burden on each paddock, as it is different worm species that causes issues for sheep versus cattle.
She weighs young cattle regularly which also helps to determine if their performance is being affected by a worm burden on the farm, and if animals should be sampled before treating.
The farm system is another way of reducing anthelminthic use – typically older animals such as the cows will develop an immunity to gut and lungworms over time and rarely need to be treated for them. Meanwhile the suckler calves tend to have lower herbage intake for the first 6 months and as such don’t ingest the same amount of worms as a dairy beef calf would.
Newly sown, ungrazed swards also reduce the risk of a worm burden on farms. Kay has 38% of the farm reseeded over the last 2 years and this provides fresh, uncontaminated pasture to her lambs, weanlings and yearlings for grazing.
If Kay does need to dose cattle, she administers the dose at a rate based on the heaviest animal’s weight, typically later in the grazing season where burdens tend to be higher, uses the most appropriate wormer and follows the manufacturer’s instructions.
Taking steps to reduce the use of anthelminthics on the farm helps Kay to keep her veterinary bill low. Regular sampling helps to avoid any setbacks to animal performance and reduces her labour as she is not dosing unnecessarily. Another big benefit is that is reduces any build-up of anthelminthic resistance in gut and lung worms on the farm, which is an ever-increasing issue nationally as it threatens the effectiveness of existing wormers.
Kay follows the following protocol when taking faecal egg samples:
- Collect samples in the morning after a period of rest
- As calves are quietly disturbed, they should defecate in one spot
- Worms are not evenly distributed. Faeces should be collected from three different areas
- 10 different samples from at least 10 different animals should be taken
- Dung should be placed in sample pots and placed in sealed, airtight zip bags
- Fill in the required information on slip, the more information the better. Include recent dosing history
- Post to the lab that day or a least within 24 hours of collection
- Try not to post from Thursday on in case they are left in the post over the weekend.
- Do not place samples in fridge
- Do not freeze
- Do not place in direct sunlight
The last 2 cows have calved on the farm with no issues. Calving began on 16th March and finished on 27th May, lasting 12 weeks in total. The target is to calve all cows in less than 12 weeks and while Kay is achieving this, she would prefer to reduce the calving spread by another 1-2 weeks.
From the ICBF calving report, it shows that Kay’s herd has a calving interval of 359 days, which is well ahead of the national average of 393 days. One calf died as a cow lay on it shortly after birth which produced a mortality rate of 4.5% at 28 days (target <5%). Twenty one cows calved out of 22 cows that were eligible to calve and this gave a calves per cow per year figure of 0.97. One cow that did not calve is almost 16 years of age. The target calves per cow figure is 0.95.
Two heifers calved on the farm this year, and both were between 22-26 months of age. Nationally this figure is only 24% of beef heifers calving at the same age. The spring 6 week calving rate was 85%, and was again well ahead of the target of over 70%. Six cows were culled between 1st July 2022 and 30th June 2023, including one that was a suspect reactor for TB and one that died of old age. The means that 27% of the cows were culled. No cows were recycled on the farm (i.e. slipped from one breeding season to the next) and all calves born were from AI sires.
Kay is very happy with this year’s calving performance and started breeding on 12th June. 21 cows and 6 heifers will be bred this year, although 11 heifers were suitable for breeding in total. Kay plans to finish breeding at the end of August (10.5 week breeding season). She has already picked her AI bulls and has been recording heats before the breeding season started so that she knows when to expect cows and heifers to be served. The cows and heifers are in the same paddock to leave it easier for visual heat detection.
Figure 1: One of the suckler cows feeding her calf
Kay weighed 9 of the 2022 born bullocks on 10th June. They averaged 447kg, having gained 0.99 kg/day since 31st of March. They ranged from 406kg to 498kg and Kay has 3 picked out already that will be fit to slaughter from grass over the summer. Her target is to have them over 500kg live weight and that they will have sufficient fat cover laid down. The average birth date of the bullocks was 14th April 2022 so she is very happy with how they have performed to date with no ration.
Figure 2: Bullock #207 weighed 440kg on 10th June 2023. DOB 20th March 2022