The breeding period for my autumn-calving herd is almost over, with all cows being bred to AI, which I carry out myself.

As of the weekend, I had 49 out of 50 animals served. So far, 10 cows needed a second service but there are a few cows served recently, so there may be a couple of repeats yet.

Breeding started around 15 October and will finish on 15 December. After nine weeks of breeding, there should be a tight calving period next August and September.

Sire choice

Cows are being inseminated to Charolais bulls, mainly Fiston and Firoda Jason. I have used both bulls before and find they suit my cows.

I have also used some sexed semen with the Simmental bull Coose Jericho. He has more maternal breeding, so hopefully I’ll get a few heifers that will make replacements.

Heat detection

With AI, heat detection is always a challenge. In the past, I have watched cows for signs of heat in the shed and used cameras. Both have worked well.

But this year I have used three teaser bulls to make the job easier, as cows are housed across a couple of sheds. Teasers are homebred bull calves and one bought in animal.

Cow diet

The cows were housed at the start of October so they would be settled in the shed well before the start of the breeding period.

Cows are being fed first-cut silage and 1.5kg/day of concentrate. Silage was baled in late May and analysed in summer.

Feed value is excellent. Dry matter is 41%, energy 11.8 ME, protein 15.4% and D-Value 73.8%.

The ration being fed is high in minerals to help with fertility. Cows are also being topped up with loose minerals dusted on silage.

Calves have performed well over winter on 74% D-Value silage and concentrates.

Fluke

Cows were treated for fluke around housing time ahead of breeding. As we get a lot of fluke on our ground, cows usually get a follow-up treatment around the end of the year with an injected flukicide. Cows are also vaccinated for BVD and Lepto.

Spring calving

As well as the autumn cows, the farm also carries an early spring-calving herd, although it is more of a winter-calving herd.

Cows normally start calving in late December and finish up in early February, allowing animals to be settled in-calf again before they go out to grass.

As the farm is heavily fragmented, cows are in multiple grazing groups which are small in number.

Therefore, calving a bit earlier and serving cows indoors is much easier to manage and more practical.

There are 20 cows set to calve down in the coming weeks. One heifer did calve ahead of her time on 2 December. She was a bought-in animal and has a healthy Simmental bull calf at foot.

The cows are calving to Fiston, Jason and Clogher Finn with the aim of getting top-quality weanlings for sale around 10 to 12 months of age.

Housing

These cows are currently housed on an outfarm, as I need the shed space around the home yard for the autumn cows during the breeding period.

But once breeding finishes, the plan is to move the autumn cows to the outfarm and bring the spring-calvers to the home yard.

When checking through spring cows, they are getting very close to calving, with udders filling up nicely.

Cows are getting pre-calving minerals through a dry cow nut, which is being fed with average-quality silage.

Once cows calve down, they will be offered high-quality baled silage and concentrate.

Selling weanlings

Calves have been performing well since they were housed and treated for fluke and worms.

The spring calves born last December and January are also on first-cut silage and 2kg/day of meal.

The strongest calves would be around 350kg to 360kg at the moment. Normally, I would hold these animals until February and sell live around 400kg to 450kg.

However, the live trade is extremely strong at present and returning good money on quality cattle. I am weighing up the pros and cons of taking the heaviest six or seven weanlings and selling live now, just in case there is a softening in the market in the spring.

Savings

Selling now would free up more space for the lightest calves to push on. There would also be a considerable saving in meal and silage, as well as improving cashflow.

Feeding 2kg/day between now and mid-February would save close to 150kg of meal per head, worth £38. Silage savings would be close on 1.5t of silage per head, worth another £30 to £35.

Factoring in a cost for time spent feeding calves from December to mid-February, diesel and a few miscellaneous costs, there is not much difference in it at the end of the day.

Autumn-born calves

The autumn herd is now calving over a fairly compact period in August, with a few cows running into September.

Calving in August has made a big difference to the herd.

Calves are much stronger at housing time and experience fewer setbacks when they come inside.

The current crop of autumn calves are thriving and I would estimate at least 20 animals are around the 250kg mark already.

If they keep performing at a similar level, they will be ideal animals for selling in late April and early May when there is a good market for grass cattle.

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