Tim came in exasperated. “I’ve been around the calf plot three times trying to get one of your little darlings back into the shed. She just would not come in. I don’t know what is wrong with her.” I paraphrase, of course. The language was much more colourful and Tim was not pleased. His first love is cows; and calves are way down the list. There’s too much patience required to be dealing with them.

Later that evening, Colm and I had to catch her. Colm did the running and catching and together in a strong hold, we guided her into the shed. The poor girl was shivering with fright. She had received plenty of touch and handling so I couldn’t understand what was wrong with her.

The following day, Tim and I were in the shed. Tim was there to make sure I wouldn’t let her ladyship out again. I had put her in with the younger group. We were just watching the calves in general. Tim noticed that the same calf that wouldn’t come in was holding her head in a strange manner and her right eye was cloudy. We’ve seen it on and off over the years.

Pink eye

It’s an infection called pink eye or New Forest Disease. It is a painful condition. She most likely got a pick from straw in the shed and then the bacteria got into the eye, causing the infection to flare. This made her temporarily blind in that eye. Was it any wonder she was terrified out of her wits? If the infection is severe, the animal can lose their sight altogether.

Luckily, this was not the case and she recovered after a few days of treatment. It is so important to watch calves for periods of time to observe changes in behaviour and to pick up little problems that arise. Monitoring is critical when there is a change in the diet, such as the move to grass.

It is lovely to see calves going out to grass. We put 60 heifers out last week. They ran about for a while before settling down to pick at some grass. They were the cream of the crop, having been born in early February and reached between 90 and 100kg before being weaned. The method of weaning is all important. It must be slow over a minimum of 10 days, according to Dr Emer Kennedy in Moorepark.

While the cause of summer scour is not completely clear, research is pointing to abrupt weaning being part of the problem. Our JFC automatic feeders reduce the feed gradually over 20 to 25 days and even then, the heifers were giving out when the white gold was no longer released. Summer scour is a relatively new phenomenon and can result from a high nitrogen content in the grass causing the digestive system to be upset. So, for the most part, the cause is nutritional.

As they will be out two weeks on Friday, they will be brought in for their second blackleg vaccine and treatment for coccidiosis. It is another common cause of summer scour

The calves went out largely without incident as they had a training fence in the shed for a few weeks at the back of the pen. Colm also purchased wide poly-tape so it was easily visible for them. It worked well, except for the odd few that got through when the fence was off. Tim was not pleased with my intelligent girls.

As they will be out two weeks on Friday, they will be brought in for their second blackleg vaccine and treatment for coccidiosis. It is another common cause of summer scour. After two weeks, we assume that the calves have been exposed to the pathogen that causes coccidiosis and treatment will help them to build immunity against it. Ideally, we’d prefer that they were never exposed but that is a utopian world.

When all that is done, they will go away from the farm to an outside block, where they will hopefully graze happily for the summer. They will continue to receive meal in the field. The cycles move around fast and they will be the breeding heifers next year. Meanwhile, last year’s heifers are running with bulls. AI was not an option as they were a bit lighter than we’d have liked.

Decisions, decisions. There are always plenty of them to be made.

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