Livestock handling at the Ploughing
Peter Varley looks at some of the livestock handling equipment available at the National Ploughing Championships.

There is a range of livestock handling equipment on show at the Ploughing. Here, we take a brief look at what’s available.

O'Donovan Engineering

The Cow Pow moving feed barrier from O’Donovan Engineering was on display. The barrier can move forward as cows eat the fodder in front of them. The idea is that there is less pushing and management of fodder in front of housed cattle.

O'Donovan Engineering's Cow Pow feed barrier.

O’Donovan Engineering says that the barrier is a good labour-saving tool and claims it can save farmers up to 70% feeding time over conventional barriers. It is particularly useful in narrow passageways.

The company says there are a lot of barriers now being exported to Iceland where cows stay indoors for long periods. The approximate cost per bay is €1,800.

According to O’Donovan Engineering, the Saber draft is popular as a retrofit option for existing dairy parlours. There are two-way and three-way systems available.

The Saber drafter unit from O'Donovan Engineering.
The Saber system works off EID tags and drafts can be scheduled using a phone or tablet. The three-way system costs approximately €13,000 excluding VAT, while the two-way system costs €11,000 excluding VAT.

Condon Engineering

Condon Engineering has a smaller version of its handling unit on display. It says fixed handling units have become popular since TAMS II was launched.

The handling units have a circular entrance to the cattle race and a non-return forcing gate, which makes it easier and safer for one person to handle cattle.

Prices vary depending on size but a standard pen and crush costs approximately €7,000 excluding VAT.

Condon Engineering's supreme handling crate.

Condon Engineering also has the cow supreme handling unit, which allows the farmer to immobilise cattle to make handling safer and easier. It costs €4,200 excluding VAT with weigh scales.

Gibney Steel Products

Gibney Steel Products has its mobile handling unit on show at its stand. The company says the hurdles that make up the race and penning have a hot dipped galvanised finish.

Gibney Steel Products has a steel livestock handling unit on display.

Gibney Steel Products says that farmers with rented land and out farms find the handling unit useful because it can be moved around without major fuss. A unit costs approximately €45/m.

The company also does a headscoop that is operated using a winch that gives the operator more power to raise an animal's head. It says it can be let down quickly, if necessary.

The Gibney Steel Products headscoop.

Newford weanlings gain 1.21kg from birth to weaning
While 2018 presented many challenges including a difficult spring and midsummer drought, the favourable weather and strong grass growth rates have finished the year in a positive manner.

Newford Farm in Co Galway continues to enjoy positive autumn performance. Grass utilisation is excellent with paddocks being grazed down to 3cm to 4cm and closed as they are grazed. All cows and calves have been turned back outdoors and settled following weaning.

Heifer and bull weanlings continue to receive concentrate supplementation at a rate of 2kg per head daily.

The fact that weanlings have been returned outdoors quickly has limited any setback in performance. Male weanlings weighed 323kg at 7.5 months of age and an average weaning date of 4 October. This equates to an average daily gain since birth of 1.24kg, while heifer weanlings weighed 302kg and gained 1.18kg/day since birth.

Grass growth has slowed significantly in the last two weeks, with this week’s growth recorded at 22kg DM/ha to 27kg DM/ha.

Conditions this autumn are the best since the project commenced, with all cows back grazing post-weaning.

Demand

Grass demand has increased, with all cows turned back outdoors and demand is outstripping growth and starting to eat into grass reserves.

Housing of the batch of 41 steers has helped to slightly offset the lift in demand. The 61 steers are now on a diet of ad-lib silage and 8kg concentrates, split into morning and evening feed.

There is still 26 to 33 days grazing ahead of stock and weather permitting this will allow cows to remain outdoors until early November.

Heavier areas of the farm are being grazed while conditions are good and this will also prolong the grazing season for weanlings should cows need to be housed.

Beef management: condition scoring and autumn breeding
This week's management notes include condition scoring dry cows and preparing for autumn breeding.

Condition scoring

On farms where silage is scarce, body condition scoring cows and restricting those in very good condition could help to stretch fodder supplies. With weaning taking place across the country, now might be a good opportunity to get spring-calving dry cows scored while they are in the yard. It is a job often left on the long finger but if a significant silage saving is to be made, it should be done from the start. Target BCS for spring-calving cows is 2.5 at calving and 3 at housing. Animals above this can afford to lose some condition over the winter by silage restriction and supplementation with straw.

One important thing to remember when restricting cows is to ensure there is enough feeding space for each animal. Now is time to make any shed adjustments if needed.

Silage sampling

Silage sampling is another factor that has the potential to reduce silage demand. The higher the quality, the less needs to be fed. Silage sampling should take place six weeks after ensiling to ensure full fermentation has occurred. If possible, take a sample that best represents the entire pit (or bales).

To do this, you can take a number of samples and put the collected material into the one sample bag for testing. If you have two silage cuts in the one pit, try to sample them separately. The ideal silage results will be 25%+ DM, 70%+ DMD, a pH of 3.8-4.2, crude protein above 12%, energy (MJ/kg DM) above 10.5 and ammonia N below 10%.

Autumn breeding

With calving drawing to a close in most autumn-calving herds, attention should turn to autumn breeding. The first thing to focus on is nutrition. With cows still at grass after calving, it is important to monitor BCS. At mating, BCS should be 2.5.

With cows suckling, it is also critical to allocate minerals, particularly high magnesium minerals as grass tetany is a major threat. Once housed, feeding should be sufficient to maintain BCS for breeding and suckling a calf.

Another thing to remember is vaccinations. Cows may need boosters for lepto and BVD. Replacement heifers should have received their first vaccination by now but remember to administer the booster shot – the first shot is rendered useless without a booster.

Bloat: There has been a number of cases of bloat in the last week causing fatalities. The biggest risk is grazing clover swards or very lush grass, particularly when wet, because these forages are rapidly digestible. At this time of the year, white clover may contribute over 40% of the DM in some swards. Be cautious about the risk of bloat, especially with cattle not accustomed to clover or lush grass in their diet, such as weanlings. Some preventative measures include feeding stock with hay/straw immediately before putting them on to a clover-rich pasture and, during grazing, using a strip wire will force cows to eat down rather than be selective. Also, try to move at-risk cattle to a high-clover pasture when the herbage is dry rather than wet.

Weaning coming to an end in Newford Farm
The last batch of cows and calves were housed on Thursday, with calves allowed to suckle once on Saturday before moving out of sight of cows.

The favourable weather in recent weeks has provided ideal conditions for weaning calves in Newford Farm, the 100-cow suckler-to-beef demonstration farm located in Athenry, Co Galway.

Farm manager Matthew Murphy reports weather contributing to a much smoother weaning process in 2018 by allowing cows and calves to be housed in three batches and return to grazing within a week of weaning.

The final batch of cows and calves were housed on Thursday and weaned in the same manner which has worked well in recent years. Calves were penned adjacent to cows, allowed to suckle two days later and then removed to straw bedding out of sight of cows.

Calves have access to good-quality silage during weaning and also receive supplementation of 2kg concentrates daily. This is continued when calves are turned back outdoors.

Slats are being scraped daily with lime applied to reduce the risk of cows contracting mastitis.

Cows are offered straw and intermittent silage to keep dung regular during weaning.

While significant rainfall is forecast over the weekend, ground conditions remain good and should still allow for grazing of weanlings even if considerable volumes of rain fall.

Grass supplies have been boosted by growth holding steady at 30kg DM/ha to 40kg DM/ha while reducing demand by temporarily housing cows and using them to clean off paddocks when turned back outdoors has helped to maintain a good reserve of grass.

The autumn grazing season is running about five weeks later than in recent years with Newford getting one of the best back ends since the project began.

This was reflected in lime being applied at a rate of 2t/acre on some of the wettest paddocks in the last week.

The aim once the last batch of calves has been weaned is to separate male and female weanlings into their groups for housing and continue grazing. Matthew says this approach will allow him to house weanlings with minimal disruption when required.

The last batch of cows is currently being weaned. The two batches previously weaned have returned to grass and settled well.

Housing steers

The first batch of 20 steers were housed at the start of the week. Supplementation is being increased from 5kg per head daily to 8kg per head split between morning and evening feeds. The remaining 41 steers will also be housed this week with remaining grass prioritised for weanlings and a batch of cows which are short of condition. Housing will also minimise the risk of poaching and allow feeding levels to be stepped up.

Grass growth rates are holding favourable, ranging from 30kg DM/ha to 40kg DM/ha on average.