Ken Gill April Update
Have you completed a fodder budget for winter 2022?
- Have you enough land closed for first cut silage?
- Will you have enough land for second cut silage?
- Should some stock be sold before the winter if enough is not produced?
Planning for the 2022 breeding season
- Examine ICBF suckler cow report to see slaughter performance of their progeny in the past
- Selecting polled AI or stock bulls will reduce labour associated with disbudding
- Choose AI bulls that will compliment cows, i.e. improve daughter milk, improve carcass conformation
Measure grass on the farm
- Growth rates will determine when all stock can be turned out to grass
- Check predicted grass growth on PBI
- Give younger animals priority access to the best grass through forward or creep grazing
The suckler cows are indoors as grass growth is slow on Ken’s farm and they are eating red clover silage. They will be going to grass in the coming days as growth rates have improved on the farm.
Ken completed a fodder budget for the coming winter. Based on housing 73 cows, 73 calve and 60 yearlings he will require 1300 bales of silage, without allowing for any oats being fed. This is based on a 6 month winter for the cows, a 3 month winter for the calves and a 3.5 month winter for the yearlings. There will be red clover silage, grass silage and a combi crop grown on the farm this year and Ken estimates that it will yield 800 bales of silage. However if he does not produce enough feed for the winter there is an option to sell cows with calves at foot or to buy in extra fodder. Ken also sows a forage crop in his tillage land which provides winter grazing for the yearling cattle.
This year the cattle that Ken sends to the factory will be graded and paid for on a new grid system for the first time. Therefore Ken is keen to maximise the potential of his animals through breeding. He looked through his ICBF suckler cow report to identify the best grading animals and see what their average daily gain, age at slaughter, carcass conformation and fat, carcass weights, sires and dams were.
This will be useful for selecting sires for breeding cows to this autumn. However as he is finishing the cattle off at grass between 22 to 27 months (25.1 months on average), care will have to be taken to continue using early maturing breeds that are suitable for his system without having to introduce ration.
One of the best cows on Ken’s weaning performance report was #11164. She is a 5 star cow with a figure of €116 on the replacement index. Her 2021 born bullock calf was the third highest performing male in the herd, gaining 1.21 kg/day on average. She had the fourth highest weaning percentage in the herd of 52%, meaning the calf was 52% of her body weight at 200 days of age. The target is over 42%. She calved at 24 months of age, reared 4 calves to date and is due to calve again on 23rd August. From the ICBF suckler cow report, two of her heifers have been slaughtered which were 23 months at slaughter with an average carcass conformation and grade of R-4= and an average carcass weight of 306kg. She is consistent with her performance and could be bred back to a maternal bull this year to try and get a replacement heifer.
In contrast to this, one of Ken’s poorest cows was #1099. Although she is a 5 star cow with a replacement index of €115, she had the third lowest average daily gain for heifers in the herd at 0.79 kg/day. She also had the lowest weaning efficiency in the herd of 25%, whereas the target is over 42%. She calved at 23 months of age, reared 5 calves to date and is due to calve again on 22nd August. From the ICBF suckler cow report, she has one heifer and one bullock slaughtered. The heifer was killed at 28 months of age and graded R+4- with a carcass weight of 309 kg. The bullock was killed at 23 months of age and graded O+3= with a carcass weight of 381 kg. While the heifer graded well and the bullock had a good carcass weight, they are very inconsistent with 5 months of difference between ages at slaughter. Her latest calf has performed poorly and she has a poor weaning efficiency. As her fertility appears to be good, she could be bred back to a bull with more terminal traits to try and improve the daily weight gain of her calf or else marked for culling.
The difference between performances of the two calves is 0.42 kg/day. At a value of €2.20/kg this equates to €0.92 per day, or €185 over a 200 day period which is financially significant. On average it is taking an extra 2.5 months to finish progeny from the poorer cow to make up for their poorer performance up until weaning, which is also contributing to higher greenhouse gas emissions per animal.
Ken is also keen to introduce polled bulls into the herd, to reduce the need for disbudding which is good for animal welfare and will also reduce labour. According to ICBF, animals that are genotyped polled receive a bonus in the Terminal and Replacement indexes to reflect the labour and capital cost of disbudding calves. Polledness has an economic weighting of €5.95 in the Replacement Index. All animals, apart from Aberdeen Angus, must be genotyped to establish their polledness status before a polledness contribution can be included in their index. Once genotyped and the polledness status can be properly established, Angus animals will either receive the homozygous (€5.95) or heterozygous (€2.97) value.
- Genotyped homozygous polled animals (all progeny polled) receive the full contribution of €6.
- Genotyped heterozygous polled animals (half of progeny polled) receive half of the contribution of €3.
Polledness (animals being born without horns) has an economic weighting of €7.55 in the Terminal Index. Once genotyped and the polledness status can be properly established, animals will either receive the homozygous (€7.55) or heterozygous (€3.78) value.
- Genotyped homozygous polled animals (all progeny polled) receive the full contribution of €7.55.
Genotyped heterozygous polled animals (half of progeny polled) receive half of the contribution of €3.78. (Source: ICBF)
Ken measured grass on his farm on 27th April. He had a farm cover of 582 kg DM/ha which is low for this month and is the main reason that his cows are still housed. He had a growth rate of 37 kg DM/ha since the previous cover on 19th April. As fodder is becoming tight for the housed suckler cows, Ken included them in the total stock numbers on the farm which gave him a demand of 39 kg DM/ha and 15 days of grass ahead. Although the farm cover and days ahead are low for an organic farm, it has given Ken the confidence to turn the cows out to grass. As they are weaned, they can be restricted slightly and the ground conditions are good for achieving good graze outs. Rain was expected over the weekend which would help growth and more clover was starting to appear in the swards which will help boost grass growth over the coming weeks. The predicted grass growth is over 50 kg DM/ha for the coming week which is also a good indication for Ken to let out the cows but he will continue to monitor grass growth on his own farm over the coming week regardless.
The yearling and weaned heifers are grouped together for grazing to reduce the parasite burden on the younger animals. The yearling and weaned bullocks are in another group together. Each group will spend 1 to 2 days per paddock and the cows will follow them to spend the third day grazing out the paddock. This gives the highest priority animals access to the best grass and prevents the cows from getting fat before calving in August.
Ken expects to cut his grass silage in late May, although he is disappointed with the slow growth. He plans to cut the red clover silage in mid-May to maintain quality and before it starts to flower.