October seems to be the time of year for farmer information meetings. Whether it is agribusiness or Department of Agriculture-organised information nights, there are plenty of events being held across the country.

This week I attended an event at Ballymote Mart organised by Aurivo, the Irish Farmers Journal and Progressive Genetics. Next week I plan to attend the Teagasc National Beef Conference and the week after I hope to attend a Department of Agriculture information meeting on the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP).

All these events are organised in order to distribute more information to farmers, and particularly suckler farmers, on how to improve the performance of the suckler herd. At this week’s event, the speakers covered topics ranging from pneumonia at housing and contributing stress factors to the current live export trade.

Details from the meeting

It appears demand from the Italian market is improving for the top-quality weanling, while numbers of calves exported to Belgium is down 98% on last year. Both of these contrasting situations are linked to two separate cattle diseases, namely an outbreak of Bluetongue in France and IBR restrictions in Belgium.

During the live cattle exhibition farmers were shown examples of four- and five-star suckler cows with calves at foot and it’s fair to say that all present were impressed with the quality of calf at foot with these cows.

The main points mentioned during the discussion were that high-index cows are available across all breeds, but unless there’s milk in the cow, the calf will not be able to meet his or her genetic potential.

Speakers also emphasised that in order to improve the reliability of the figures, farmers should record accurately as much detail as possible for cows and calves on their own farm.

Speakers from Progressive Genetics explained how to achieve four- and five-star ratings, even when starting from a low base, and discussed a number of bulls available in their catalogue.

Struck a chord

Something that struck a chord with me was the mention of some new short-gestation bulls which are now available. With calving continuing at home, I have noticed the gestation period of the last six cows calved has been on average 297 days. With a national calving interval of 407 days, maybe the problem is not getting cows back in calf, but actually getting the calf out in the first place.

Dairy farmers are known to use short-gestation bulls in order to get cows back milking again quickly after the dry period. Short-gestation bulls are something I need to add to the mix, when considering the next team of bulls to use.