Our first cow calved here in Abbeyleix on 14 January. This was two weeks earlier than our planned start date, as a neighbour’s bull outsmarted the electric fence last April.

It’s the first time on the farm that the first calf wasn’t a Friesian, but we have a nice, healthy Shorthorn bull calf, so I won’t complain.

We had another cow calve a week later, four weeks early, but the heifer calf only survived for a few hours. The first of the heifers calved at the weekend.

These were all served with sexed semen using fixed-timed AI on 5 May. We had a 68% conception rate to this when we scanned.

We spread 80% of the grazing platform with 2,000 gallons/acre of slurry with the umbilical pipes and dribble bar, when the slurry spreading period opened.

We had no rain for 10 days before, or a week after, spreading. I hope to get more slurry out on our silage ground, if ground dries up, as it has become soft again after last week’s rain.

Our contractor has a nurse tank for spreading out blocks with the umbilical system, so we will use this option to reduce compaction on the fields. The plan is that we will draw the slurry to the tank ourselves.

Our student from Kildalton College, Kevin, started 15 January and he has all of the calving pens and calf sheds bedded and ready for calves, good and early.

We feed the cows magnesium flakes two weeks pre-calving to try to prevent milk fever and 1kg of soya and 1kg of oats to increase colostrum quality, calf vigour and it also gives the cows more energy for calving.

The silage was tested for minerals and is normal for K (potassium), so hopefully we wont have any milk fever.

We got caught a few years ago with high K silage causing milk fever, so I’ve been testing it for minerals ever since, and feed the low K silage to the cows before calving.

If costs do not reduce, milk price has to increase significantly to keep dairy farms profitable

We have the few calved cows out day and night at the moment in a paddock near the yard, as the weather is mild. I have four paddocks near the yard ready for early grazing that didn’t get any slurry.

Milk price

I was happy to see Tirlán increase the milk price for December by 1c/l, but more increases are needed.

Looking at our profit monitor, milk price was down 20c/l in 2023 compared to 2022, but total costs are the same at approximately €3,000 per cow.

This is not sustainable as the costs are up approximately €1,000 per cow compared to the previous three years, and the majority of this is from variable costs.

If costs do not reduce, milk price has to increase significantly to keep dairy farms profitable.

Cows were vaccinated for IBR and rotavirus over the last few weeks. The last 12 cows due to calve after St Patrick’s Day will be vaccinated for rotavirus next week, to ensure their milk is covered.

I have never vaccinated calves for pneumonia, and never had an issue, but this week it was discussed in our discussion group, so I am considering it now to ensure we don’t get an outbreak. It’s another cost, but not as expensive as sick calves.

I have also sent the feed and fertiliser records into my Teagasc adviser for my nitrates derogation. It’s nice to have that paperwork in early and completed before calving gets busy.

I also completed the ATV safety training last week. It is important to complete this training, as ATVs can be dangerous if not used carefully and I found this training to be a good refresher to make me aware of what can happen.