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February Management Tips as Calving Commences on Suckler Farms

29 January 2018
Type Media Article

By John Kilboyle, Teagasc Adviser, Galway/Clare Regional Unit


Early Grass - Planning for early grass, apply half a bag of Urea (46% N) per acre when soil temperatures rise to 5-6 degrees centigrade over a consistent period of a few days (normally mid-Feb to early March) and once weather conditions allow.  Alternatively, apply 2500 gallons slurry/acre to bare paddocks. Urea is cheaper per kg of Nitrogen than CAN and should be used in spring wherever possible to reduce costs. The application of slurry or chemical N should be avoided within 48 hours of expected heavy rainfall to minimise losses and maximise benefits.

Early Turnout - Given the current fodder situation, it is now time to start putting a plan in place to target potential early turnout to grass. Weather permitting lighter stock could be prioritised for turnout for example yearlings, replacement heifers and stores. Target grazing lighter covers on the farm at the start of rotation, building up to heavier covers as ground conditions allow which should improve grass utilisation. Aim to have silage fields grazed before closing them for first cut silage and avoid poaching fields if possible.


Yearlings/ Store - Depending on silage quality and availability, meal feeding requirements will differ, however where silage quality is 65% DMD or less, feed at least 1.5- 2kg per head/day of a high energy, 16% CP ration. Cease feeding concentrates 4 weeks prior to turnout to maximise the benefit of compensatory growth at grass.

Replacement Heifers - Maintain thrive in replacement weanling heifers as they are the future of your herd. They should be getting preferential treatment of 2kgs 16% CP ration where silage quality is 65% DMD or less and aiming for an average daily gain of 0.6kg per head/day over the winter period.

Pre - Calving Checklist - Check the basic calving equipment e.g. calving gate, calving jack, two sets of clean soft nylon ropes, disinfectant, lubricant, two stomach tubes (one for sick calves and one for colostrum management), iodine, electrolytes, arm length gloves, standard rubber gloves and access to warm water etc.. Preparation is the key. Have calving boxes clean and disinfected prior to start of calving (1 calving box per 10 cows). Ensure to use plenty of straw in calving pens to keep young or new born calves warm. You should be able kneel down in an animals bed without your knees getting wet in an adequately bedded pen. If there is historical issues of Cryptosporidium scour on farm, consult your vet to develop a strategy that best suits your farm to tackle the problem. However thoroughly washing, disinfecting and drying out of each calving box after each calving will help prevent the build-up of harmful microorganisms. Spreading lime by hand after each individual use of the calving pens will also help neutralise any potential infection by raising the pH.

Colostrum (biestings) Management - Antibodies cannot cross over from the cow to the calf during pregnancy, therefore calves are born without any immunity. Suckler calves should be fed 2-3 litres of colostrum within two hours of birth to maximise absorption of antibodies and increase immunity of the calf to help fight potential infectious bacteria and viruses. Ideally colostrum from the calves mother should be fed, however in cases where this is not possible, emergency supplies should be available. Surplus Colostrum from older cows/ high yielding cows could be harvested and used in an emergency situation. Surplus colostrum can be stored for up to one year in a freezer in milk containers or freezer bags at -18°C to -25°C without losing quality. When defrosting, use warm water less than 50°C to thaw slowly as faster thawing at higher temperature or using the microwave will destroy the antibodies in the colostrum.

Feeding the calved cow - Cows in good condition at calving BCS 2.5-3.0 and going to grass within six weeks post calving will suffice on moderate quality silage (66 % DMD) with no concentrates. Cows with calves at foot and in poor condition must be supplemented with 2-3 kg's concentrates until turnout. First calvers require concentrates in all cases, depending on silage quality, this will vary from between 1 -3 kg's/ day up until turnout. A high energy (UFL= 0.94+) ration with16% crude protein should be fed.

Fencing - Check all fencing, Carry out any repairs necessary. This should be done in advance of turnout of any stock. 

Soil Samples - Taking soil samples will establish the nutrient status of your land.  Samples should be taken before fertiliser or slurry is applied to fields. Follow recommendations as per soil sample results. Target the application of lime to the low pH soils and apply slurry/FYM to fields low in P and K. 

Farm Safety - With the continued increase in farm accidents, ensure to stay safe and minimise the potential risks of accidents on farm occurring throughout the calving season. Remember calved cows can become aggressive in protecting their young after calving. Ensure cows can be safely secured for handling. Remain vigilant at all times. Cows showing prolonged calving aggression (longer than a few days) should be culled (preferably slaughtered) once their calf has been weaned.