It’s back to the grindstone this week in Clara after a few quieter weeks through Christmas and the New Year. Calving has started a few days earlier than planned, with a few cows jumping the gun a bit, but thankfully no serious problems as yet.

The number of calves in the yard is climbing quickly every day, with around 10% of the herd calved already before we hit the actual due date of 11 January.

There seems to be solid demand for early calves this year again, despite the costs of milk replacer and concentrates, so we should get most of the bull calves and beef calves out of the yard reasonably quickly this spring, leaving a bit more time and space to look after our own replacement heifer calves and the pedigree bull calves.

We are hoping to take delivery of a milk shuttle this week, which should simplify the job of feeding the younger calves around the yard and hopefully prevent lifting injuries and strains.

We like to give all the younger calves as good a start as possible on whole milk for a few weeks before putting the replacement heifers onto milk replacer.

This system means we handle a lot of whole milk in the yard every year, and shoulders and backs can feel the effects of this very quickly as we move through the spring.

Reduce labour

Hopefully this machine will also help to speed up the process of feeding these younger calves and reduce the labour needed to get through the busy spring period.

It’s always great welcoming new calves into the herd, but even better when things get busy, seeing batches go out the gate healthy onto local beef farms.

Hopefully we can keep disease challenges to a minimum again this year and keep the calves moving through the farm as quickly as possible.

Scour vaccines, disinfectant, elbow grease and good bedding all help to keep calves thriving, but good colostrum procedures at the start are the key to a good calf rearing season.

We have increased our first feed from 2l up to 3l over the last few years, with every calf stomach tubed with fresh colostrum as soon as possible after birth.

Calves are then fed in batches of 10 as soon as they are strong enough to compete at the milk bar.

Automatic feeder

Heifer calves are moved on to the automatic feeder at three to four weeks of age and the bull calves and beef calves are sold out of the yard at the same stage.

The heifer calves in the shed are fed hay or straw in a ring feeder, with meal fed through an ad-lib feeder to again reduce labour required to rear these calves.

On the cow front, we are trying to keep a bit of grass in the diet where possible and have managed to get them out most days so far.

As numbers increase over the next few weeks, we will split the herd and separate the fresh cows from the main herd that is clear for the tank and hopefully push the main milking herd a bit harder at grass from next week, weather permitting.

Again, getting the cows out even for a few hours every day keeps them cleaner and healthier and reduces labour in the yard. The fresh cows on the other hand will get a few days TLC inside at night before being subjected to any harsh weather.