Preparation for the winter period has started already for the 150 spring 2022-born calves on the Irish Farmers Journal THRIVE demonstration farm outside Cashel, Co Tipperary. For the bulls, this started with castration a fortnight ago. Over the last few years, we have brought the date of castration forward quite a bit. They are now done before they are six months old.

The biggest benefit of doing them earlier is that the weather conditions are warmer and the days are longer, which reduces the likelihood of any weather-related stress at the time of castration. Combined with having a less mature calf, this means the setback to thrive is minimal.

From now onwards, the health plan is preparing the calves for housing in November. While vaccination plays a key role in animal health on the farm, it needs to be combined with carefully planned management.

Pneumonia is typically caused during a period of stress in the animal’s life. This could be something as simple as a change in diet, change in environment e.g housing, or a change in group mates from batching cattle for winter.

In early September, calves will receive the first of a two-dose Bovipast RSP vaccine. Four weeks later, they will receive a second booster dose of the same product, as well as a single shot of an IBR vaccination which will give them six months of protection.

The calves are not vaccinated for IBR on arrival to the farm, as it is not seen as being a high risk period for this strain of pneumonia on the farm at this point.

This is done in early September, with the plan to house cattle in mid-November. Immunity should be high in the calves at this point and so should give the greatest protection to stock.

Maintain winter performance

This protocol has been in place over the last two years and farmer John Hally was happy with how it worked for last year’s calves. They settled into the winter routine very well and John reported very little, if any, sickness in the batch.

In this system, where we aim to slaughter as many cattle as possible at the end of the second grazing season, it is really important that stock are thriving every day they are on-farm.

Often the first winter period is when a lot of stock will fall behind target, as growth is not sufficient. Having a good winter vaccination plan, combined with excellent management and good nutrition, will help maintain performance over winter.

There is still time to put good vaccination protocol into place this autumn – speak to your vet to discuss the best approach for your herd and your farm needs, as every case will be different.

There are other simple things you can get right in the shed this year to maximise animal performance;

  • Floor space: Dairy calf-to-beef animals in the first winter will require between 1.5m2 and 1.8m2/head.
  • Feed space: Ensure you have enough feed space for every animal in the pen to feed at one time, especially when feeding meal – 400mm-500mm/head is required. This can be reduced to 250mm-300mm/head where a total mixed ration (TMR) is being fed.
  • Water: Ensure cattle have constant access to fresh clean water at all times. Check water troughs daily to ensure they are clean.
  • Nutrition: Feed the best quality silage on the farm to weanlings. Make sure you have silage analysed and supplement with concentrates accordingly.