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Tuesday, 01 September 2009 16:26

Farming Diary for September

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September farming diaryPastures

We can't complain about lack of rain in most areas this winter, so ground water levels should be back to normal ready for the spring flush. So it's time to start seriously monitoring pasture growth, so good pasture management decisions can be made. You cannot afford to waste one blade of grass when growth takes off as it doesn't come free of charge. Pasture management is certainly not an exact science, and often the more you hear and read about it, the more confusing it seems to be.

To remove the mystery, you need to walk the farm and see what's actually growing after winter. Weeds like Californian thistles may be tiny, but they are just waiting for some warmth to take over, and the winter growth of moss may be dominant. You need to learn how to recognise plants at the early stages of their growth.

So get serious and make a 1 square meter frame, and throw it at random over the paddock. Then get down and estimate how much is actually grass (especially ryegrass) and clover, how much of the area is weeds, and how much is bare soil and dung patches. You only get feed from the grasses and clovers. Ryegrass has a shiny green upper surface to the leaf with a prominent keel, and if you peel off the stem sheath near the ground, it should be pink. Grasses with soft hairy leaves and stems will be Yorkshire Fog.

You won't see Browntop in the first spring growth as it's a low fertility grass. Fertiliser applications will get rid of it. It's used as a lawn grass where low growth is required. If you farm in a warm Kikuyu area, you'll have your work cut out to stop it choking out everything else. You'll need a long-term programme to try to get rid of it which will involve many hard grazings with big cattle.

Clover provides free nitrogen from the air through the nodules on its roots containing bacteria. It also provided highly nutritious feed and why the target in a pasture should be 70% grass and 30% clover. But clover plants need light and are easily shaded out by long overgrown pasture plants and weeds with large leaves like docks. Healthy clover wont' grown on low fertility soils – so again, fix the soil fertility status.

If your pastures have clumps of grass with coarse leaves, this is probably Cocksfoot, which will keep on getting rank if it's not cleaned right off. Stock will only keep trimming the outer leaves and the inner tuft just keeps getting bigger. This really needs slashing off to get it into a more palatable stage, and then kept well grazed.

A good reference book to help plant recognition is 'What grass is that' by L.C Lambrechtsen. It's an old Government Printer publication so should still be public libraries.

If pastures are really devoid of grass and clover, you can't do much about resowing pastures now, but you can see what the weed population is going to be like, and make some plans to deal with it. This should be to spray thistles when in the rosette stage, as well as ragwort and docks. Make sure you can identify all these plants.

There's usually no problem controlling the early spring flush, as there is always plenty of mouths to eat it with newborn lambs, kids and calves around. It's later on into October you will need to look at saving and surpluses and silage.

If a spring flush doesn't arrive, then a major reason is that you are wintering too many stock, and hopefully you will still have enough good silage left over from winter to fill the gap. Hay may save an emergency if it's decent quality, and not more than one year old. Stock will not be keen to eat hay older than that.

Running out of feed is a regular event in spring, and it can be very expensive if cash for emergencies is not in the budget. Crisis supplementary feed when short is usually at crazy prices. It's in the 'second grazing round' where trouble strikes. Spring saved pasture that reaches the top of short gumboots, is in excess of 4000kg DM/ha and you think this feed will never run out – but it can when the rains don't come and it's grazed to soil level.

The biggest sin is to graze too low and not leave enough 'residual' pasture to generate the regrowth. Leaves are the plant's food factory, and unless you leave a 'residual' of at least 1100kg DM/ha or 50mm long, regrowth will be very slow. Cattle can't eat below this level.

The other reason for slow spring growth is lack of soil fertility, so you need to get a soil test done, and put some fertiliser on in autumn. If soil nutrients are dangerously low and off the chart, put some fertiliser on as soon as you can, but don't do the entire farm in one go as you need rain to wash it in before grazing. If stock ingest too much superphosphate for example, it can be toxic.

You may be advised to apply some Nitrogen fertiliser like Urea to give the late-growing pasture a boost. For example 25kg of N/ha, but this will be disappointing if the other major soil nutrients like Phosphate and Potash are low, and especially if the farm needs lime. If you do nothing else, put some lime on as soon as you can. The pH of the soil needs to be around 6.5 for pasture.

Weeds love spring, especially thistles and ragwort, so learn to identify them correctly and get advice on what should be done in the young leaf stage. Don't leave them till they have built up massive root reserves and have seeded in mid summer to spread around the district like so many folk do.

So much pasture is wasted in wet spells by cattle pugging the when pasture is pushed into the soil with their hooves. These holes then fill with water and with more trampling, the soil damage gets worse, as the delicate soil crumb structure is turned into slime.

We need more stand-off pads if the environment has to be protected, and there would not be anyone who has built one in recent years, who will have regretted the move. Farmers with pads all say they can sleep better at nights knowing that both stock and pastures are safe.

It's important to remember that spring pasture is not by any means a 'balanced feed'. It's low Dry Matter, massively high protein, which is not compensated by the carbohydrate (sugar) levels, and it's extremely low in fibre which is important for good rumen digestion. Some farmers are now measuring sugar content as is used in horticulture with the Brix reading. So much of what goes into the front end of a ruminant in spring comes out the other end and is wasted, especially protein as urea which is the big nasty of environmental degradation.

Sheep

The bulk of lambing is over in the North Island and there have been reports of good survival rates due to good weather. Early lambs have been docked and those on the higher ground of the South Island waiting to start. There is still the welfare problem of too many lambs having their tails docked too short, and stud breeders are some of the worst offenders when you see their rams at sales – they have no tail dock at all!

See the Sheep Code of Welfare available on the MAF website which says that the tail dock should cover the vulva of a ewe lamb, and the equivalent in the male. This allows lambs to 'wag' their docks and helps when passing faeces and keeps them cleaner, as close docking damages the peritoneum-anal sphincter muscles.

Some farmers are claiming growth benefits from not docking, especially for lambs to be sold before Christmas. Meat companies are currently talking up the price of lambs for next season – after the disaster of last season when many farmers gave their lambs away. So it's going to be important to look after every lamb.

Docking is a good time to check flock performance. There are many ways to work out a 'lambing percentage' some of which fudge important issues like how many dry/dry (barren), and wet/dry ewes (lambed and lost lambs), there were. These poor-performing sheep must be included in the reckoning.

The best figure is 'lambs docked/100 ewes to the ram' and should be well over 120% these days regardless of the breed of sheep. If it's not, then check where the wastage occurred, and find out how to fix the problems for next season. Ewes that were dry or didn't rear a lamb to weaning need to be culled.

Check with your vet it you had the correct vaccination programme for the main lamb diseases, especially pulpy kidney and tetanus, which regularly kills big fast growing lambs with little warning. If you didn't do the ewes before lambing, the lambs will need to be treated without delay. Also check with your vet about mineral levels, as lack of selenium is sometimes found and can be the cause of 'sudden death syndrome'. There may be mineral deficiencies because of the farm's soil type.

There's always intense advertising pressure for farmers to drench stock, accompanied by attractive freebees. Don't drench lambs at docking, as they don't need it. Only start considering drenching lambs at weaning if they need it.

And don't drench mature ewes, as their immunity levels will solve their worm problems. If ewes are really skinny, the problem is more likely to be lack of feed prior to lambing. Because of the concern over increasing worm resistance to anthelmintics, the rule now is not to drench any sheep before you have some definitive evidence from a Faecal Egg Count (FEC).

And even with egg counts of above 500 eggs/g of faeces (epg), if the animals are thriving and not looking 'wormy' or anaemic, then don't drench. Five hundred epg is the level vets often use to recommend drenching but it's too low. The big move now is to leave the best 20% of a mob of sheep undrenched, (called in refugia) so you don't kill all the worms that are susceptible to drench. These are needed to mate with the resistant ones, to delay total drench resistance. Not may farmers realise that once all the worms on their properties are resistant to the drenches available, that's the end of sheep farming and the value of the farm could be badly affected.

Heavy-milking ewes need the best feed on the farm, especially those suckling multiples. Farmers with high-fertility flocks now run triplets with the twins, rather than on their own or with singles. There's a greater chance of a stray triplet sneaking a feed in the melee of many lambs sucking and confused mothers, that with a ewe with a single as she's never in any doubt about the identity of her lamb.

All dirty ewes need to be dagged, as when it warms up and even before that, the Aussie green blowfly will be active. Be aware that when you yard sheep, dirty ewes can spread their dags to lambs and they can get struck too, so don't pack ewes and lambs up too tight in pens, especially over night waiting for the shearer. Be constantly on the watch for lambs getting flyblown – you'll see wet looking areas on their wool and they are clearly stressed trying to nibble the blown areas. They can die in a few days.

Ewes and growing lambs need plenty of good clean water, and cover open troughs with mesh or put some large rocks in them to prevent lambs drowning as they race around. Book the shearer to get the wool off hoggets this month if it's 100mm long. To get any decent price remove all dirty and stained wool and bits with vegetable matter in it. Only send the body wool to the merchant or let the shearer take it off your hands. And don't expect to make a fortune from it.

Cattle

It's calf-rearing time, and it's tempting to assume that this is a money-making business. It may not be, but folk who rear calves are loathe to do a proper and honest budget – which includes their own labour. They seem to be happy to work for nothing. If you do the costings, even with cheaper calves, which are plentiful by the end of the month, it's often cheaper to buy weaners that somebody else has reared, which at the main sales are sold on a weight basis.

See our website for information for first-time calf rearers, advising folk not to start with too many, and to buy them in one batch from a single farm and not in the saleyards. Pay the farmer you buy them form a premium and he/she will make sure they've had 2-3 days of colostrum before you pick them up. This is the key to all calf rearing success.

Saleyard operators deny that diseases are readily spread at calf sales, but apart from that risk, two transport trips in a day in crowded conditions, being shaken about and stressed should be avoided where possible. You see calves in trailers without shelter having terrible trips.

Never buy small calves, or calves with a lot of Jersey genes in them to rear for beef just because they are cheap, as you'll have them far too long and they'll never grow into profit. Calves should do at least 1kg/day when in the shed on milk, meal and hay. There is a mass of information on calf rearing put out each spring, much of it from commercial sources pushing their own products.

Calves need to go out on to good clean pasture so they'll grow without the need for meal which is expensive, and will certainly put up the costs of rearing. It's vital that calves at pasture have good shelter and shade, and they should not need regular drenching.

All calves need to be dehorned (or disbudded) before six weeks old using the hot cauterising iron. Don't use caustic paste, as the finished job is unpredictable and the paste can keep on spreading and burning the skin, often making a messy end result. Age of dehorning depends on the size of the horn bud, as some Holstein Friesians will have large buds at birth and can be dehorned very early. Small Jerseys will need to be left much longer. There needs to be a complete burned ring around the horn bud, as this is where growth takes place.

Vet clinics are now advising using an anesthetic around the horn bud and also to give the calf a general shot to reduce stress. Some vets are saying this is a requirement under the law, but it's not. Private contractors will use anaesthetic and some (without veterinary approval) will not. So ask any dehorning contractor before booking what service they provide. Under the Painful Procedures Welfare Code, pain must be reduced wherever possible, so using anaesthesia must be the best option.

If you buy dairy weaners in the saleyards, check they have been properly dehorned, or it will mean more expense later (after 9 months) when a veterinarian will have to do the job with full anaesthetic. If you send large cattle to the works and they have horns, this will cost you a $25 penalty for slaughtering them.

Calves sucking cows should be growing well so keep their mothers on good feed with good quality supplements if feed gets short to keep the cows milking. Cows that are multiple suckling calves will to be slow to come on heat. A trick to try is to remove the calves for 24 hours to see if it triggers oestrus in the cow, but it's not very reliable.

Rising yearlings going to the bull in October should be approaching their target weights (see our website) and showing plenty of oestrus activity. Watch the neighbour's bull doesn't pay a visit, and put an extra hot wire on the boundary fence anticipating his arrival. It's time to sort out what bulls you will need, and where to get them from. If you have kept bulls from the previous season, it may pay to get the vet to check them.

Watch out for well-grown dairy calves of Holstein Friesian origin coming on heat, especially those suckling their mothers with the bull with them. If rising yearlings get pregnant, they must be aborted as early as possible, which is a job for the vet. Never let them calve, as they'll never grow into decent animals later in life, and the calves will be too small to rear and need to be euthanased.

If you lease a bull, remember the health risks involved, so check with your vet what tests are needed and that the bull supplier can provide a certificate to prove they have had all the appropriate tests. Because there's a problem in the North Island with Theileria carried by cattle ticks, check that bulls have been treated for ticks before they arrive.

If you intend using AI on the herd, then contact your AI service provider now, as there are a lot of issues to get sorted out. The main one is whether you are going to synchronise the cow with hormone treatment, which is expensive involving hormone treatment and vet visits, or whether you are going to let the cow cycle naturally and call the AI service.

Check our website on the important points of an AI programme. The key thing for a successful AI programme is to be able to recognise heat behaviour of the cow and to know when to inseminate. Cows ovulate after their oestrus, so the ideal time to inseminate is when they have just gone off standing heat.

Stock must have a good supply of good quality water - and keep the troughs clean all year around. A mature cow drinks 70 litres a day, and much more if she's suckling calves.

Stock of all ages will scour in the spring – mainly because of the large amounts of water in the pasture, which goes through the animal. Spring is also the time when worm larvae hatch (called the spring rise) and crawl up the wet pasture to be eaten to re-infect the animal and start the cycle again. A heavy parasite load can cause scouring, but don' treat any cattle for worms before talking to your vet, where a decision to drench or pouron. The excess use of pourons has caused a major drench resistance problem with Cooperia worm species.

General

  • Check your financial budget.
  • Update your financial records and pay your accounts regularly.
  • Farms are dangerous work sites and not recreational areas with animals, chemicals and machinery, which are all potential hazards.
  • Bulls can be killers – and especially the over-friendly ones that are not afraid of humans.
  • So make sure you have a hazard policy – for both your family and visitors to your property. OSH may want to see it if there are problems.
  • There will be children around the farm at lambing and calving, and they'll want to play in sheds where there are scores of things that can fall down. Buttons on machines are just asking to be pressed and keys left in vehicles turned!
  • Get rid of all old chemical containers, and make sure there's a clearly written name on the outside of all containers to show what's inside. It's best to tie a luggage label on them.
  • Criminals are busy too in spring, and lambs and calves are so easy to steal.
  • Record any suspicious activity you see on the website . It's an online map designed for farmers to anonymously report and track suspected stock theft.
  • Double check your personal liability insurance if you have paddocks or trees near a highway, as you may be deemed responsible for accidents to people and their property.

 

 

 

Kate Diary September 2014

 

Pastures

We can’t complain about lack of rain in most areas this winter, so ground water levels should be back to normal ready for the spring flush.  So it’s time to start seriously monitoring pasture growth, so good pasture management decisions can be made. You cannot afford to waste one blade of grass when growth takes off as it doesn’t come free of charge.  Pasture management is certainly not an exact science, and often the more you hear and read about it, the more confusing it seems to be.

 

To remove the mystery, you need to walk the farm and see what’s actually growing after winter. Weeds like Californian thistles may be tiny, but they are just waiting for some warmth to take over, and the winter growth of moss may be dominant.  You need to learn how to recognise plants at the early stages of their growth.

 

So get serious and make a 1 square meter frame, and throw it at random over the paddock.  Then get down and estimate how much is actually grass (especially ryegrass) and clover, how much of the area is weeds, and how much is bare soil and dung patches.  You only get feed from the grasses and clovers. Ryegrass has a shiny green upper surface to the leaf with a prominent keel, and if you peel off the stem sheath near the ground, it should be pink. Grasses with soft hairy leaves and stems will be Yorkshire Fog.

 

You won’t see Browntop in the first spring growth as it’s a low fertility grass.  Fertiliser applications will get rid of it.  It’s used as a lawn grass where low growth is required.  If you farm in a warm Kikuyu area, you’ll have your work cut out to stop it choking out everything else.  You’ll need a long-term programme to try to get rid of it which will involve many hard grazings with big cattle.

 

Clover provides free nitrogen from the air through the nodules on its roots containing bacteria.  It also provided highly nutritious feed and  why the target in a pasture should be 70% grass and 30% clover.  But clover plants need light and are easily shaded out by long overgrown pasture plants and weeds with large leaves like docks.  Healthy clover wont’ grown on low fertility soils – so again, fix the soil fertility status.

 

If your pastures have clumps of grass with coarse leaves, this is probably Cocksfoot, which will keep on getting rank if it’s not cleaned right off.  Stock will only keep trimming the outer leaves and the inner tuft just keeps getting bigger. This really needs slashing off to get it into a more palatable stage, and then kept well grazed.   

 

A good reference book to help plant recognition is ‘What grass is that’ by L.C Lambrechtsen.  It’s an old Government Printer publication so should still be public libraries.

 

If pastures are really devoid of grass and clover, you can’t do much about resowing pastures now, but you can see what the weed population is going to be like, and make some plans to deal with it.  This should be to spray thistles when in the rosette stage, as well as ragwort and docks.  Make sure you can identify all these plants.

 

There’s usually no problem controlling the early spring flush, as there is always plenty of mouths to eat it with newborn lambs, kids and calves around.  It’s later on into October you will need to look at saving and surpluses and silage.

 

If a spring flush doesn’t arrive, then a major reason is that you are wintering too many stock, and hopefully you will still have enough good silage left over from winter to fill the gap.  Hay may save an emergency if it’s decent quality, and not more than one year old. Stock will not be keen to eat hay older than that. 

 

Running out of feed is a regular event in spring, and it can be very expensive if cash for emergencies is not in the budget. Crisis supplementary feed when short is usually at crazy prices. It’s in the ‘second grazing round’ where trouble strikes. Spring saved pasture that reaches the top of short gumboots, is in excess of 4000kg DM/ha and you think this feed will never run out – but it can when the rains don’t come and it’s grazed to soil level.

 

The biggest sin is to graze too low and not leave enough ‘residual’ pasture to generate the regrowth. Leaves are the plant’s food factory, and unless you leave a ‘residual’ of at least 1100kg DM/ha or 50mm long, regrowth will be very slow.  Cattle can’t eat below this level.

 

The other reason for slow spring growth is lack of soil fertility, so you need to get a soil test done, and put some fertiliser on in autumn.  If soil nutrients are dangerously low and off the chart, put some fertiliser on as soon as you can, but don’t do the entire farm in one go as you need rain to wash it in before grazing.  If stock ingest too much superphosphate for example, it can be toxic.

 

You may be advised to apply some Nitrogen fertiliser like Urea to give the late-growing pasture a boost.  For example 25kg of N/ha, but this will be disappointing if the other major soil nutrients like Phosphate and Potash are low, and especially if the farm needs lime.  If you do nothing else, put some lime on as soon as you can.  The pH of the soil needs to be around 6.5 for pasture.

 

Weeds love spring, especially thistles and ragwort, so learn to identify them correctly and get advice on what should be done in the young leaf stage. Don’t leave them till they have built up massive root reserves and have seeded in mid summer to spread around the district like so many folk do.

 

So much pasture is wasted in wet spells by cattle pugging the when pasture is pushed into the soil with their hooves.  These holes then fill with water and with more trampling, the soil damage gets worse, as the delicate soil crumb structure is turned into slime.

 

We need more stand-off pads if the environment has to be protected, and there would not be anyone who has built one in recent years, who will have regretted the move.  Farmers with pads all say they can sleep better at nights knowing that both stock and pastures are safe.

 

It’s important to remember that spring pasture is not by any means a ‘balanced feed’.  It’s low Dry Matter, massively high protein, which is not compensated by the carbohydrate (sugar) levels, and it’s extremely low in fibre which is important for good rumen digestion.  Some farmers are now measuring sugar content as is used in horticulture with the Brix reading.  So much of what goes into the front end of a ruminant in spring comes out the other end and is wasted, especially protein as urea which is the big nasty of environmental degradation.

 

Sheep

The bulk of lambing is over in the North Island and there have been reports of good survival rates due to good weather.  Early lambs have been docked and those on the higher ground of the South Island waiting to start. There is still the welfare problem of too many lambs having their tails docked too short, and stud breeders are some of the worst offenders when you see their rams at sales – they have no tail dock at all!

 

See the Sheep Code of Welfare available on the MAF website which says that the tail dock should cover the vulva of a ewe lamb, and the equivalent in the male.  This allows lambs to ‘wag’ their docks and helps when passing faeces and keeps them cleaner, as close docking damages the peritoneum-anal sphincter muscles. 

 

Some farmers are claiming growth benefits from not docking, especially for lambs to be sold before Christmas.  Meat companies are currently talking up the price of lambs for next season – after the disaster of last season when many farmers gave their lambs away.  So it’s going to be important to look after every lamb.

 

Docking is a good time to check flock performance.  There are many ways to work out a ‘lambing percentage’ some of which fudge important issues like how many dry/dry (barren), and wet/dry ewes (lambed and lost lambs), there were.  These poor-performing sheep must be included in the reckoning.

 

The best figure is ‘lambs docked/100 ewes to the ram’ and should be well over 120% these days regardless of the breed of sheep.  If it’s not, then check where the wastage occurred, and find out how to fix the problems for next season.  Ewes that were dry or didn’t rear a lamb to weaning need to be culled.

 

Check with your vet it you had the correct vaccination programme for the main lamb diseases, especially pulpy kidney and tetanus, which regularly kills big fast growing lambs with little warning. If you didn’t do the ewes before lambing, the lambs will need to be treated without delay. Also check with your vet about mineral levels, as lack of selenium is sometimes found and can be the cause of ‘sudden death syndrome’. There may be mineral deficiencies because of the farm’s soil type. 

 

There’s always intense advertising pressure for farmers to drench stock, accompanied by attractive freebees. Don’t drench lambs at docking, as they don’t need it.  Only start considering drenching lambs at weaning if they need it.

 

And don’t drench mature ewes, as their immunity levels will solve their worm problems.  If ewes are really skinny, the problem is more likely to be lack of feed prior to lambing. Because of the concern over increasing worm resistance to anthelmintics, the rule now is not to drench any sheep before you have some definitive evidence from a Faecal Egg Count (FEC). 

 

And even with egg counts of above 500 eggs/g of faeces (epg), if the animals are thriving and not looking ‘wormy’ or anaemic, then don’t drench.  Five hundred epg is the level vets often use to recommend drenching but it’s too low.  The big move now is to leave the best 20% of a mob of sheep undrenched, (called in refugia) so you don’t kill all the worms that are susceptible to drench.  These are needed to mate with the resistant ones, to delay total drench resistance.  Not may farmers realise that once all the worms on their properties are resistant to the drenches available, that’s the end of sheep farming and the value of the farm could be badly affected.

 

Heavy-milking ewes need the best feed on the farm, especially those suckling multiples. Farmers with high-fertility flocks now run triplets with the twins, rather than on their own or with singles. There’s a greater chance of a stray triplet sneaking a feed in the melee of many lambs sucking and confused mothers, that with a ewe with a single as she’s never in any doubt about the identity of her lamb.

 

All dirty ewes need to be dagged, as when it warms up and even before that, the Aussie green blowfly will be active. Be aware that when you yard sheep, dirty ewes can spread their dags to lambs and they can get struck too, so don’t pack ewes and lambs up too tight in pens, especially over night waiting for the shearer.  Be constantly on the watch for lambs getting flyblown – you’ll see wet looking areas on their wool and they are clearly stressed trying to nibble the blown areas. They can die in a few days.

 

Ewes and growing lambs need plenty of good clean water, and cover open troughs with mesh or put some large rocks in them to prevent lambs drowning as they race around.   Book the shearer to get the wool off hoggets this month if it’s 100mm long.  To get any decent price remove all dirty and stained wool and bits with vegetable matter in it. Only send the body wool to the merchant or let the shearer take it off your hands. And don’t expect to make a fortune from it.

 

Cattle

It’s calf-rearing time, and it’s tempting to assume that this is a money-making business.  It may not be, but folk who rear calves are loathe to do a proper and honest budget – which includes their own labour.  They seem to be happy to work for nothing.  If you do the costings, even with cheaper calves, which are plentiful by the end of the month, it’s often cheaper to buy weaners that somebody else has reared, which at the main sales are sold on a weight basis.

 

See our website for information for first-time calf rearers, advising folk not to start with too many, and to buy them in one batch from a single farm and not in the saleyards. Pay the farmer you buy them form a premium and he/she will make sure they’ve had 2-3 days of colostrum before you pick them up. This is the key to all calf rearing success.

 

Saleyard operators deny that diseases are readily spread at calf sales, but apart from that risk, two transport trips in a day in crowded conditions, being shaken about and stressed should be avoided where possible. You see calves in trailers without shelter having terrible trips.

 

Never buy small calves, or calves with a lot of Jersey genes in them to rear for beef just because they are cheap, as you’ll have them far too long and they’ll never grow into profit.  Calves should do at least 1kg/day when in the shed on milk, meal and hay.  There is a mass of information on calf rearing put out each spring, much of it from commercial sources pushing their own products.

 

Calves need to go out on to good clean pasture so they’ll grow without the need for meal which is expensive, and will certainly put up the costs of rearing.  It’s vital that calves at pasture have good shelter and shade, and they should not need regular drenching.

 

All calves need to be dehorned (or disbudded) before six weeks old using the hot cauterising iron. Don’t use caustic paste, as the finished job is unpredictable and the paste can keep on spreading and burning the skin, often making a messy end result.  Age of dehorning depends on the size of the horn bud, as some Holstein Friesians will have large buds at birth and can be dehorned very early. Small Jerseys will need to be left much longer.  There needs to be a complete burned ring around the horn bud, as this is where growth takes place.

 

Vet clinics are now advising using an anesthetic around the horn bud and also to give the calf a general shot to reduce stress. Some vets are saying this is a requirement under the law, but it’s not.  Private contractors will use anaesthetic and some (without veterinary approval) will not.  So ask any dehorning contractor before booking what service they provide. Under the Painful Procedures Welfare Code, pain must be reduced wherever possible, so using anaesthesia must be the best option.

 

If you buy dairy weaners in the saleyards, check they have been properly dehorned, or it will mean more expense later (after 9 months) when a veterinarian will have to do the job with full anaesthetic. If you send large cattle to the works and they have horns, this will cost you a $25 penalty for slaughtering them.

 

Calves sucking cows should be growing well so keep their mothers on good feed with good quality supplements if feed gets short to keep the cows milking. Cows that are multiple suckling calves will to be slow to come on heat.  A trick to try is to remove the calves for 24 hours to see if it triggers oestrus in the cow, but it’s not very reliable.

 

Rising yearlings going to the bull in October should be approaching their target weights (see our website) and showing plenty of oestrus activity. Watch the neighbour’s bull doesn’t pay a visit, and put an extra hot wire on the boundary fence anticipating his arrival.  It’s time to sort out what bulls you will need, and where to get them from. If you have kept bulls from the previous season, it may pay to get the vet to check them. 

 

Watch out for well-grown dairy calves of Holstein Friesian origin coming on heat, especially those suckling their mothers with the bull with them. If rising yearlings get pregnant, they must be aborted as early as possible, which is a job for the vet.  Never let them calve, as they’ll never grow into decent animals later in life, and the calves will be too small to rear and need to be euthanased.

 

If you lease a bull, remember the health risks involved, so check with your vet what tests are needed and that the bull supplier can provide a certificate to prove they have had all the appropriate tests. Because there’s a problem in the North Island with Theileria carried by cattle ticks, check that bulls have been treated for ticks before they arrive.

 

If you intend using AI on the herd, then contact your AI service provider now, as there are a lot of issues to get sorted out. The main one is whether you are going to synchronise the cow with hormone treatment, which is expensive involving hormone treatment and vet visits, or whether you are going to let the cow cycle naturally and call the AI service.

 

Check our website on the important points of an AI programme.  The key thing for a successful AI programme is to be able to recognise heat behaviour of the cow and to know when to inseminate. Cows ovulate after their oestrus, so the ideal time to inseminate is when they have just gone off standing heat.

 

Stock must have a good supply of good quality water - and keep the troughs clean all year around. A mature cow drinks 70 litres a day, and much more if she’s suckling calves.

 

Stock of all ages will scour in the spring – mainly because of the large amounts of water in the pasture, which goes through the animal. Spring is also the time when worm larvae hatch (called the spring rise) and crawl up the wet pasture to be eaten to re-infect the animal and start the cycle again.  A heavy parasite load can cause scouring, but don’ treat any cattle for worms before talking to your vet, where a decision to drench or pouron. The excess use of pourons has caused a major drench resistance problem with Cooperia worm species.

 

General

·       Check your financial budget.

·       Update your financial records and pay your accounts regularly.

·       Farms are dangerous work sites and not recreational areas with animals, chemicals and machinery, which are all potential hazards.

·       Bulls can be killers – and especially the over-friendly ones that are not afraid of humans. 

·       So make sure you have a hazard policy – for both your family and visitors to your property. OSH may want to see it if there are problems.

·       There will be children around the farm at lambing and calving, and they’ll want to play in sheds where there are scores of things that can fall down.  Buttons on machines are just asking to be pressed and keys left in vehicles turned!

·       Get rid of all old chemical containers, and make sure there’s a clearly written name on the outside of all containers to show what’s inside.  It’s best to tie a luggage label on them.

·       Criminals are busy too in spring, and lambs and calves are so easy to steal.

·       Record any suspicious activity you see on the website <Stop Stock Theft>. It’s an online map designed for farmers to anonymously report and track suspected stock theft.

·       Double check your personal liability insurance if you have paddocks or trees near a highway, as you may be deemed responsible for accidents to people and their property.

 

END

 

Dr Clive Dalton

Clive did a Ph.D. in sheep breeding at the University of North Wales at Bangor. After lecturing at Leeds University, he came to New Zealand to do research with MAF. Because of his communication skills, he moved to the Ruakura Agricultural Research Centre to be fully involved in interpreting science for practical application by farmers.

After 14 years he moved to teach at the Waikato Polytechnic where he taught young future farmers. He won the 1993 Landcorp Communicator of the Year award and the 1999 Sir Arthur Ward award for agricultural communication.