Vets provide an essential service on livestock farms around the country and their call out service to farmers is exemplary.

Be it 3am in the morning or 3 pm on a Sunday, they are at the end of the phone available at the drop of a hat.

As one farmer said to me last week, she would have a vet in the yard quicker than she would have a doctor to the house.

So much of farmer’s interactions with vets is on a fire brigade call or in the middle of the calving. Sometimes it’s really useful to just listen what they have to say.

A cow which had been lame on Trevor Campbell’s farm before paring.

A Co Down beef discussion group facilitated by CAFRE beef adviser John Sands got the opportunity to do just that last week when local vet Gareth Bell spoke to the discussion group on calving issues and keeping feet right on suckler cows ahead of the busy spring period.

“With feet, it’s important to keep on top of things and investigate early to make sure a small problem doesn’t become a very big problem very quickly.”

The same hoof post-paring.

Jubilee vets provide a foot paring service and have a purpose-made crush which tows behind a jeep to facilitate foot paring on clients farms.

There can be a huge variety of reasons cows or bulls become lame. Walking on poorly constructed roadways or bad concrete can cause issues for cows.

Housing can also be a cause – old slats can cause problems or lips of concrete at a feed face can cause hooves to crack. Genetics can also have a big role to play, and some of the farmers present have experienced a bull with bad feet breeding daughters with the same issues.

Nutrition, especially in younger cattle and in particular young pedigree bulls can have a massive impact on hoof development and excessive growth at a young age can lead to issues further on in life.

Gareth said diseases such as digital dermatitis or Mortellaro can be extremely difficult to cure.

“Clean sheds and passage ways will help to prevent the disease from taking hold but once on the farm it’s very hard to get rid of,” he said

Calving tips

Vet Gareth Bell gave the group a quick crash course on issues that can arise at calving time. Knowing when to intervene, stomach tubing tips and keeping claves alive were all covered.

Gareth’s most important piece of advice was to “stay calm” in the face of a problem.

“Usually there is always someone starts to panic when the pressure comes on and I just tend to send them for a bucket of hot water and when they come back I send them for another one”.

Feeding a high-quality mineral, ensuring calves get sufficient colostrum and not skimping on straw were all discussed as methods to avoid issues at calving time.

MLA Vote on Climate change

There has been widespread shock and anger at an amendment to the Northern Ireland Executive’s climate change bill, which changes the headline target to a 100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, was passed by MLAs at Stormont at the beginning of February.

An analysis by consultancy firm KPMG found that net zero would require an 86% cut in cattle and sheep numbers, and 98% of beef and sheep farms in less favoured areas would go out of business.

The amendment, brought forward jointly by Sinn Féin and the Green Party, was supported by 50 MLAs, with 38 MLAs voting against it.

The net zero target was backed by Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance, the Green Party, People Before Profit’s Gerry Carroll, the DUP’s Jim Wells, and independent MLA Trevor Lunn. All other representatives from the DUP, the Ulster Unionists, the Traditionalist Unionist Voice’s Jim Allister, and independent MLAs Claire Sugden and Alex Easton, voted against it.

Sam Chesney, a local beef and sheep farmer and member of the discussion group said: “The vote was an absolute disgrace. All the support packages for suckler cows and sheep are probably up in smoke now. Farmers were let down very badly by Sinn Féin, the Alliance and the SDLP. They completely ignored what we were saying for the last few weeks. It’s going back to green and orange politics and we need bigger politicians than that. They expect farmers to reskill as forestry workers. It’s an absolute joke.”