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Wintering Out Suckler Cows

  • 03-11-2022 12:31pm
    Registered Users Posts: 823 ✭✭✭

    Back again with more questions! First year taken over home farm. 14 suckler cows plus bull plus two heifers for calving next year. No slatted house. Two sets of questions please.

    Firstly - the cows. They'll be calving again next april/early may hopefully. (3 will be out in july/august). Usually, they'd be given a bale of silage in the yard and free to go in and out during the winter. Should I also be giving them some sort of supplement/lick/thriver to keep them ticking over or just keep an eye on them and only give them something when one of them might look like they're going back a bit?

    Secondly - the weanlings. 3 born in july so they'll be kept for the winter on their cows. Usually kept separate from the other cows. Again, should I give these cows/weanlings anything extra on top of the bales of silage to ensure that cows are keeping in milk and weanlings are thriving? The 11 weanlings then born in spring this year will be ready to go soon. Mix from 250ishkg to 350kg. Usually all loaded up on the morning straight off the cows and into the mart. Was thinking of maybe splitting them this year and only bringing them in when prices good/weight up etc so if I've to do 3/4 mart runs I don't mind? Also, any advantage weaning them now - I have a shed where I could keep them for a few weeks and put them on hay/silage and maybe a bit of meal?

    I'm starting from scratch knowledge wise this year so all suggestions/advise gratefully received! Thanks.


  • Registered Users Posts: 451 ✭✭Silverdream

    I'd definitely be giving the cows with calves at foot some kind of supplement, if only access to a few mineral lick buckets. They are at risk of getting Tetney especially in wet and cold weather with a hungry calf pulling off them.

    With that amount of Cows you would be better off if you could tighten up the calving interval and try and have them all calving within a month or two of each other.

  • Registered Users Posts: 823 ✭✭✭Stationmaster

    I'd usually have a bucket of lick out alright for the cows.

    Trying to tighten up calving alright but not finding it easy! 3 calved this year in July - one is being culled, another one went to bull end of September but third one hasn't been to bull yet as her calf got injured and I've had to keep them in for the last month or more - bringing bull over to her next week.

    My aim alright is to have 15 to 20 cows calving within 6 weeks of each other in 3 to 4 years time!

  • Registered Users Posts: 823 ✭✭✭Stationmaster

    How much meal would they need roughly do you think? All purpose or something like that be ok?

    Yea, I'd thought about letting her go out till next year alright but wasn't sure if that was ideal or not - it would definitely be another back in line alright - thanks!

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  • Registered Users Posts: 823 ✭✭✭Stationmaster

    I know. Only took over this year after father passed away unexpectedly. They're a pain in the hole at times but I can't see myself getting rid of them either to be honest! There's a story or more behind each one and there's still a great feeling walking around them with their calves when things are going well.

    The calves are unbelievably healthy born out but it can go against you too with weather etc. I remember chatting to a dairy farmer last March - I had spent 4 nights in a row checking one particular cow at least twice between going to bed and getting up in the morning (she was out in the field obviously so had to be found first each time!) - she had looked like calving and was well stocked up etc - but she still hadn't calved by night 5. He had calved 27 cows in the same time and was checking them only the same amount of times as me from the comfort of his bed on the phone!

    Half thinking of going into organics (next year not this year) and availing of the 60% grant for the shed. Whatever about my thoughts/feelings on calving out, I think it's only right that for whoever is coming behind has the option of putting them in!

    I won't be selling the cows but thanks for the advice. As most of ye on here know already, a lot of our decisions aren't based on common sense!

    Would you wean the calves anyway before selling?

  • Registered Users Posts: 2,761 ✭✭✭cute geoge

    Is there any way you could rent a shed for some few months of the winter ,unless your on top of a quarry them cows must do serous harm to ground .Your father might have gotten away with it ,but he would have had the experience of dealing with the harsh weather .in my head it is bonkers

  • Posts: 0 [Deleted User]

    If they are light cows then they will do ok outside as long as you don’t keep them wet ground. You could move them regularly.

    If they have calves under them then a kilo a head per cow a day would help them and reduce silage intake

  • Registered Users Posts: 823 ✭✭✭Stationmaster

    No, definitely nothing available around. To be honest, don't mind them out too much. They're fierce healthy and there's a decent system going of where they go/can't go etc. I know for the long/medium term alright I probably will have to put up the shed but, at the same time, the farm will never have anymore than 15 cows on it.

  • Registered Users Posts: 3,843 ✭✭✭Hard Knocks

    If your current system works, I’d not bother putting up a shed. The cost would be too much. I would put in a sheltered area where you could put cows coming close to calving, that had access to a shed if needed could even setup a camera on it.

    Your strong calves, when were they born? and when’s their mothers due?

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  • Registered Users Posts: 823 ✭✭✭Stationmaster

    I put up a small shed this spring - divided in 3 - it can take 9/10 animals in total so it's there if needed for sick cow or animal.

    This years calves were born in march/april (11) and july (3). They're a month or so later next year - mostly april hopefully - thinking of getting them scanned next month by that fella from cork who can fairly accurately give the calving dates (I think!).

    One of the cows who calved in July has only 2 working teats and had milk fever last year so will cull her (she's also 14 years old) - anyone suggest when is the best time to do that? She had a nice bull calf.

  • Registered Users Posts: 17,907 ✭✭✭✭Bass Reeves

    Dry her up as soon as possible in the spring. Leave her off to grass. On good grass she will fatten by June/July

    Slava Ukrainii

  • Registered Users Posts: 7,895 ✭✭✭funkey_monkey

    @Stationmaster sorry to hear about your father. It's a story I've experienced this year too.

    In regards to the cows they must have been out through the winter weather when your father was running the place, so a shed would not be a near term priority.

    I would look at getting minerals into your cattle somehow. Whether that is a bolus or something applied onto the silage. A pre calver or dry cow mineral might be useful but your co-op or vet can advise - or some of the more knowledgeable folk on here.

    Can you wean the calves now and put them into the shed you mention and push them on a bit before selling? It would help ease the pressure on the land, give the cows a break and push the calves on a bit.

    You could give them a bit of a ration to put a bit more bone into them. If insufficient room, wean the bigger ones, so two batches.

  • Registered Users Posts: 170 ✭✭Jim Simmental

    was your father feeding silage/hay to the outwintered cows?

    I’m not sure how it would go with cross compliance - but if you could ‘sacrifice’ say 10 acres for out wintering and feed your cows silage in ring feeders - such a simple system and probably most natural for the cows with a sheltered dry lying area. Then bring them into your shed before calving if necessary. Roll/land level your 10 acres in the spring and it should be back as good as new

  • Registered Users Posts: 2,169 ✭✭✭Dunedin

    Whilst the natural habitat might be outside they still need dry lying and not everywhere can have this especially in a wet winter.

    A sacrifice ten acres in the spring will be completely tilled and would need a shake of grass seed to bring it back again. Otherwise there’ll be a lot of docks and weeds coming back first.

  • Registered Users Posts: 823 ✭✭✭Stationmaster

    All silage . The ring feeder is in the yard that come and go to as they please. They have access then to about 8 acres. It’s a dry hill with a rushy/wettish ring around the bottom of it and two big grove of trees that stay bone dry. I have another dryish field as well that I’m going reseeding next spring so I will probably use that for part of the winter too or split them into smaller groups. They’re usually on 2 groups but I might even make a third group this year (I have use of a neighbours 8 acre hill that has an old hay barn on it which is great shelter).

  • Registered Users Posts: 823 ✭✭✭Stationmaster

    In relation to cross compliance I’d say I’d be screwed if ever inspected to be honest! Can’t ever remember an inspection down through the years so I’d say he was getting away with it so just drive on!!

  • Registered Users Posts: 823 ✭✭✭Stationmaster

    I should also add that the land fertility is quite poor - fertiliser put out on silage fields only down through the years and nothing on the rest of the farm. No slurry either obviously. Got soil tests done earlier and one or two fields were ph of 5.5 but most were 5 or lower so I plan on putting out a lot of lime in the spring.

  • Registered Users Posts: 2,761 ✭✭✭cute geoge

    Just being nosey how many acres have you ??it Sounds like you have a fairly descent spot there

  • Registered Users Posts: 823 ✭✭✭Stationmaster

    I have about 55 acres - it's very mixed. A couple of good hills (well they were good!) but lots of rushes and marshy land too that has great grass in a summer like this year but you couldn't walk a lot of it then from now till next March/April. In a hen harrier area and glas so I'll be in a co-op area for ACRES hopefully if I get in.

    I also have access to about 16 acres of what was goodish ground but has been let go. It's not a long term lease, nor never will be, but I could have use of it for a good few years. Going to mulch it next spring/early summer and it'll be a massive boost for grass/possibly silage.

    Plan is to get land fertility up the next few years as well as getting to know/learn more about the cows welfare, dosing, fertility etc. In fairness to my father he always had very good weanlings so I'd like to focus on quality over quantity. Mostly ch x cows and I've a young pure bred CH bull that we got around May 2021. There's so much to learn/take in though but, in fairness, there's great help around with groups like this here, a local grass group that I joined that meets once a month and just ballhopping neighbours whenever I meet them!

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  • Registered Users Posts: 988 ✭✭✭minerleague

    Think you have priority to get into ACRES if in the hen harrier areas, downside maybe is what will they want you to do. If you can continue to outwinter cows they are fitter to calve in my view. In time build a shed to house closer to calving to make life easier.

  • Registered Users Posts: 165 ✭✭Gudstock

    Be careful that the acres actions that you choose don't prohibit you from outwintering where you usually do. Some of the grassland type actions have date limits on grazing.

  • Posts: 0 [Deleted User]

    The weather isn’t playing ball this year. Very wet for out wintering

  • Registered Users Posts: 823 ✭✭✭Stationmaster

  • Registered Users Posts: 8,605 ✭✭✭893bet

    If this is your first year. And you are missing your greatest source of knowledge with your dad passing away (sorry to hear that) then I would do as you are doing and focus on animal health with the key goal of “minimal livestock losses”. I only took over my self 3 years ago (and father is still alive) and still had losses I shouldn’t have had at calving.

    Also to add, you don’t have to follow in your father footsteps, and farm the same way. If working full time then sucklers are hard work and dry stock may suit better.

    Get through this year and see how you fair.

    Dont go mad building sheds until you have a year or 2 of being in control financially to see what the farm is doing.

  • Registered Users Posts: 823 ✭✭✭Stationmaster

    Some great points, thanks. In fairness to him, we had the conversation before he passed - he made it clear that the cows were hard work and that there was no way I should feel I had to keep them going and he suggested dry stock too. I'd like to try the sucklers for a few years anyway - it's easy change if not suiting or working out after the few years.

    A lot of the stuff I've to pick up relates to the farm in general anyway and not just the type of farming. For example I was amazed by the amount of grass around the farm during May, June and most of July but then equally amazed by how poor the growth was since August even when other lads had plenty of grass still growing. (I'm guessing and have been told by some that this is down to fertilizer/slurry never having been spread anywhere except the couple of silage fields.)

    After the comments here and other lads around I've spoken to I'm going to leave the weanlings on their cows this year right up to going to the mart but creep feed them a bit for the next few weeks - they should be all be gone in a month or so anyway. I'm going to split the group in 3 for winter bales using 1 if not 2 fields that wouldn't have been used before as they're going to be reseeded next year. I'll put out buckets of mineral licks for all and give the 3 cows that are keeping their calves for the winter a bit of feed to keep them happy and play it by ear then.

    Thanks again to all for the advice - ye mightn't all realise it when you add a comment or piece of advice, no matter how detailed or not, but it's a great source of info here and has been a massive help.

  • Registered Users Posts: 4,482 ✭✭✭White Clover

    Be sure to keep a constant eye on cow condition. If the ones with the calves start to go back, wean them straight away.