It is over five and a half months since my autumn cows finished calving and it has been a welcome break that has given me time to forget about all the problems associated with getting living calves on the ground.
I have actually been looking forward to the restart of calving – it is probably my favourite part of keeping suckler cows.
It is definitely not the easiest but there is something special about it. Maybe I am looking through rose-tinted glasses. Usually towards the end, I get a bit fed up and cannot wait for calving to finish.
This spring, I have 45 five cows and heifers calving over a six-week period. It usually starts at the beginning of March, but I began breeding one week earlier last year, so I have started calving a little earlier than usual.
At the time of writing (last weekend) I have had 24 calves born in the first 10 days. Calves are popping out thick and fast.
So far, most have calved by themselves. It’s hard keeping a tight eye, when you have so many born together.
I hear lots of advice about feeding cows late in the evening to avoid night-time calving.
I have been trying this for years with my suckler cows (and sheep). To be totally honest it makes absolutely no difference. Most of them calve at night.
They are all calving down to AI, which means I can pick individual bulls to suit cows. Some farmers will only use two or three different bulls but I enjoy assessing each cow and trying to decide where she needs improvement.
I usually choose two or three bulls that would suit each cow. I also try and crossbreed as much as possible to make the best use of hybrid vigour.
It all means that I could be using at least 12 different AI bulls over the herd.
The first, and probably the most important trait that I am looking for, is easy calving. A dead calf or a hard calving is no good to me. I need a calf to slip out and get up and suckle by itself.
Then I am looking for an animal that will grow on quickly and, if it is a heifer calf, something that will have good maternal traits. In other words, I am looking for good cow makers – heifers that will calve easily themselves, and have lots of milk.
I sell a lot of in-calf heifers every year and this has become an important part of my farming enterprise. This is now having more of an influence in the AI bulls that I use.
When I was just breeding my own replacements, I was not very interested in what they looked like as long as they had the right genetics to make top-class cows on my own farm.
Now things are different. When I am selling my in-calf heifers I am very rarely asked about their genetic potential. Most farmers are only interested in their colour.
No-one ever wants a black animal no matter how good they are or what genetic potential they have. Instead my customers want a dark red and white / roan heifer. Their second choice is a full red heifer.
It is hard to get those colours just right and it has given me something else to think about when I am choosing AI bulls.
What I have also found in the past is that most of the ones that are the right colour are usually bull calves.
Thankfully so far this year things have worked out differently. I have had some lovely, coloured calves and they are heifers. It is very early days, at this stage, but they look the job.
It seems strange, for me to be chasing colour when all my logic tells me that it is the genetic potential that I should be more interested in.
But at the end of the day, I have to try and give the customer what they want.