Calving has slowed down considerably on Newford Farm in recent days, following a very busy five-week period.

The number of cows calved as of Friday 11 March stands at 83 cows or 89% of the 93 in-calf heifers and cows.

Calving activity has been heavily weighted to the first four weeks, as reflected in Figure 1, with 69 cows (74%) calving during this period.

The breeding season in 2021 was 10 weeks in length, so calving for the 10 cows left to calve is likely to be well spread out well.

There has been five cases of mortality recorded. As discussed in previous weeks, there were three calves lost at calving and Teagasc's Michael Fagan says the cause has been attributed to stillbirths.

One calf died while the farm’s vet was carrying out a caesarean section on a cow, while the final loss was a calf aged two weeks old that failed to thrive despite displaying no major health issues. This calf has been submitted for post mortem analysis as is the practice on the farm.

Weather challenges

A batch of 36 cows and calves are at grass by day and in by night. The first 20 cows and calves were turned out on 28 February, with 16 more over the following few days.

Conditions had been largely positive, but ground conditions have become trickier in recent days. As such, Newford Farm’s Jerry O’Brien has switched to on-off grazing in a bid to improve grass utilisation and limit sward damage.

Heifers are being offered a daily allocation of grass to optimise grass utilisation and reduce sward damage.

Cows are turned out daily at 8am and brought back indoors to a large straw-bedded area at 4.30pm. They are offered a limited supply of silage, with the aim of having cows going out hungry in the morning to encourage a higher grass intake.

It had been hoped to turn more cows and calves outdoors this week, but this will be now delayed until at least next week, when it is also hoped to get the batch of 36 cows and calves back outdoors full-time.

There are just 10 cows left to calve, so calving activity will be much quieter over the coming weeks.

There is in the region of another 30 cows housed in the main suckler shed, where one of the feeding passageways has been converted to a temporary creep area. This is working well in reducing the volume of straw required.

Slats are scraped down daily and a dusting of lime is being applied to the slats to cut down on the risk of mastitis.

The remaining cows which have calved are housed in straw-bedded accommodation.

Straw is being topped up regularly at present and feeding areas are being cleaned and disinfected to help prevent disease establishing and spreading.

Yearling cattle

Yearling heifers remain outdoors and are being offered a daily allocation of grass at present to optimise utilisation.

Heifers were weighed following temporary housing for six days on 25 February and averaged 410kg liveweight on this date. Michael says the heifers have achieved an average daily gain since birth of 1.06kg.

Cows and calves are transferred to group penning for a period after calving to allow more time for the cow to bond with its calf and for calf milk intake levels to rise.

Yearling bullocks remain housed and these were weighed on 23 February and recorded an average liveweight of 428kg.

Bullocks have achieved an average daily gain of 0.66kg since housing on 18 November, with lifetime performance similar to heifers at 1.07kg since birth.

Replacement heifers are weighing 335kg on average and are well on target for breeding in 2022.

Replacement heifers were also weighed recently and, according to Michael, the 23 heifers weighed 335kg liveweight on average on 1 March.

With the exception of one heifer, the range in weights is from 295kg to 408kg, with the other heifer weighing 238kg. Leaving aside this poor-performing heifer, the rest are well on target for breeding.