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Coping with another bad spring on beef farms

Coping with another bad spring on beef farms

2024 is starting on a similar bad note to 2023, writes Alan Dillion, DairyBeef 500 Manager, with incessant rainfall in the early part of the year leading to some serious issues on farm in terms of fodder supply, bedding supply, slurry storage and grazing.

While we often had wet springs in to April before, the fact that some parts of the country housed stock in early September has caused problems with seven months of foddering completed already.

Fodder supply

Many farms have not begun grazing yet and, with no sign of dry weather as of yet, farmers must take action swiftly if fodder supply is running out. While conditions can change very fast this time of year, we all remember the disaster that was 2018 when rain never stopped through April and fodder had to be imported.

Farmers who have less than two weeks fodder remaining, especially on heavy ground, need to look at sourcing an additional week to 10 days of feed as an insurance policy. Clay type soils will take a week to dry at least when it does dry up and farmers may need to hold heavier stock such as suckler cows or 2 year old cattle in until this happens. Talk to your neighbours who may have some fodder to spare, transporting long distances adds big cost to fodder so the nearer to home it is the better.

Silage close up

At this stage, if silage ground has not been grazed and is unlikely to be grazed in the next week it is probably best to accept this practice will not happen and close up silage ground as it stands. If ground remains untrafficable for the next two weeks with fertiliser, look at spreading a lower level of nitrogen, say 60-70 units/ac and aim to cut early to mid may.

Grazing silage ground into mid-April and cutting in June will result in lower quality silage and increased meal costs over the winter for priority stock. There will be many farms who haven’t grazed any ground yet who will take out silage as soon as ground dries so as to correct the rotation. This silage should be excellent quality once preserved correctly and can be used for finishing stock in the winter ahead.

Bedding supply

The inability to turn out calved cows will put bedding supply under pressure with a higher straw demand in the creep areas and calving pens. Again try to source some extra bales locally if running low. It won’t take an artic load to get someone over the line but 5-10 bales may be all that’s needed. It is important not to skimp on bedding as it can lead to scour and pneumonia outbreaks in young calves. The same principal applies to dairy-bred calves where straw usage will be high for the next month or so.

Herd health

This spring is another bad one in terms of calf health issues. The constant damp air and changing temperatures plays havoc with calves in terms of pneumonia issues and scour outbreaks. Keep a close eye on calves and treat any calf that shows signs of a health stress, droopy ears, sunken eyes, off their feed etc. Check temperatures of calves that appear off form and consult with your vet as to appropriate treatments. Overcrowding in sheds becomes an issue on suckler farms with most cows calved at this stage. Is there any other sheds available on site that could accommodate a few extra stock to take the pressure of the main suckler sheds?

Keep an eye out for your neighbours

These extreme weather events are very stressful on livestock but also on the farmer themselves. Keep an eye on your fellow farmers in the local community and ask them how they are faring out. Some may not have many others to share their problems with. It may even help them to find a solution to a small problem.