Calving was going well and everything was going to plan. We had 47 cows calved and 48 live calves on the ground. Weather had improved, so cows and calves were getting to grass and cows were calving with very little assistance.

Last week was one of those weeks and number 48, 49 and 50 were all dead calves for one reason or another. Number 48 seemed to be a case of a cow lying on her calf. The calf was two days old when he died. The post-mortem results showed a slight crypto infection and a low-ZST test which would indicate a poor uptake of colostrum. The calf was seen sucking the cow after a stress-free calving so we aren’t sure why it came back low.

Number 49 was a case of a cow being able to get the calf’s head out and no further. To add further complication, the cow put out her calf bed after calving but, thankfully, is responding well to treatment.

Number 50 was a backways presentation. The cow was being monitored and just wasn’t progressing with calving and when farm manager Shaun Diver handled her, it was back feet and the calf was already dead. Once the calf didn’t engage, the natural process of calving didn’t happen and the calf smothered.

Commenting on the last week, Shaun said: “It’s been a very difficult week. We were going great and you get this run and you just think, when are they going to go right for me? We haven’t changed anything; the same cows with the same bulls and the same management. Calves might be a little bigger this year but not by a whole lot. We have had a little more assistance this year as well. I have had two calves upside down in the last five days and we wouldn’t have normally seen any of that.

“We have talked to Donal Lynch, our vet, and there isn’t anything standing out as obvious, so we just have to keep going, but it knocks your confidence around taking calves. You’re just wondering what next.”

Last week’s losses brings the total number of calves lost this year up to four out of 54 cows calved. That was the total number lost last year out of 98 calvings so hopefully the second half of calving will fare better than the first. Numbers 51, 52, 53 and 54 have all calved ok with no assistance.

Countdown to lambing

The final preparations are being put in place ahead of lambing starting this week in Tullamore Farm. Ewes are due to begin lambing from 10 March onwards with the flock in that late pregnancy period where a few niggling issues always occur.

There have been three or four of these issues in the last week to 10 days. The first of these was a ewe carrying four lambs which was experiencing a slight prolapse. The ewe seemed to be doing ok but then one morning was off her feed and exhibiting signs of twin lamb disease, for which she received treatment.

Later that day, she was found dead. There has been no result returned from the lab yet but it is suspected that a ruptured uterus was the cause of death.

At the start of the week, a ewe hogget lambed well ahead of time with the lamb dying after a number of hours. There is no infectious agent suspected and the likely cause was an injury. Another ewe carrying three lambs lambed on Thursday night ahead of time. Again, infectious agents are not thought to be the cause but cases of abortion are submitted to the regional veterinary laboratory as part of the farm’s health plan developed in conjunction with vet Donal Lynch.

Feeding rates

Apart from these few issues on the sheep side, Shaun Diver reports preparations are coming along well, with ewes holding body condition.

Ewes carrying twin lambs are receiving concentrate supplementation of 0.7kg per head daily, with triplet-bearing ewes receiving almost 1kg per head at this stage of gestation.

Single-bearing ewes are receiving about 0.4kg to 0.5kg concentrates and with the litter size lower this year, it is hoped there will be a greater opportunity to cross-foster lambs.

Grain and straw supply from spring barley

Planting a spring cereal has many benefits on a livestock farm. On this week’s tillage pages, we describe some of the advantages and challenges of planting spring barley after grassland.

The first advantage is straw, which could supply all or some of your bedding and feed needs.

Grain is obviously the main product from the crop and the most valuable. Some farmers will simply deliver the grain and buy back dried grain or feed.

Dry grain can also be rolled on farm or grain can be treated with an alkaline treatment soon after harvest and be fed with a balancing ration. Treating grain allows for storage on farm without the need for it to be dried to 14% to 15% moisture content or stored with aeration.

Including a cereal crop in your farm’s rotation could prove beneficial when preparing ground for reseeding and can allow for a forage crop to be planted after harvest to feed light stock outdoors over winter and reduce slurry storage needs.

Things to consider

Before planting, consider a few things. How much of the work can you do yourself? Is there a contractor nearby to do the jobs you can’t? Does a spring barley crop fit in with your workload? Ploughing, sowing and spreading fertiliser will be carried out in the next few weeks and there will be two to three herbicide and fungicide applications between planting and early June.