Rayner Reckons

Sep 05

Whats going on in your cow herd?

Posted on Friday, September 05, 2014

I reckon this time of the year is possibly the most frenetic for beef cattle breeders.  Spring calving is well underway, and there are plenty of people talking to me about the ups and downs of calving.  At the same time the bull selling season in northern NSW and southern Qld is dominating the minds of many producers.  Meanwhile, in the back of everyones mind is the question about what the spring will be like and if we can finally move towards a good season and a strong market.

I've been giving this time of year some thought as I travel to meet clients and attend bull sales in the north. 

A couple of things stand out for me.  Firstly it seems like 80% of the people I speak to are looking for bulls specifically to join to heifers.  These "heifer bulls" are being sought to address, in many cases, a difficult year for calving heifers.

If you are experiencing difficulty in calving your heifers, don't just blame the bull!

Birth weight is a major cause of calving difficulty. And the bull does contribute to the potential weight of the calf.  However, don't neglect the other factors in calving difficulty! You should also consider how well grown your heifers are; what nutritional program they have been managed under and how has your management of this group been undertaken generally.  

If you really want to get on top of a problem, you need to know whats going on in that part of your herd.

The second thing I've noticed a lot at recent sales is many producers have not really thought a lot about the structural soundness of the cows within their breeding herd. 

It seems that people are confident in looking at bulls and saying they want to make sure of feet or legs or eyes.  

But when I ask them whats the general level of structural soundness in their herds, on more than one occasion I've been told the producer just doesn't know.

I have to say it makes selecting a bull for long term herd improvement, a real challenge.  Unless you know where your herd sits for all attributes, such as growth to meet market specs, for fatness, for size, for temperament and for structure, you can't actually make the most informed decision regarding the influence a new bull may make in your breeding herd.  

At best, its an informed hunch!  With EBVs and a physical assessment of a bull you can decide if he will generally improve your herd.  

But; (and there is always a but) is the bull likely to improve the structural soundness of the herd?  Does he help lift your herds muscle score?  Will he help correct the level of cow hocked animals or introduce legs that are possibly too straight.  In other words will the bull make existing problems better or worse?

If you haven't spent time considering your cow herd and working out whats going on in the herd, I reckon you've made your bull purchasing decisions just a little bit harder.  

So while I know it's a busy time right now, try and put aside a bit of time to look objectively at your cows.  Start assessing them and make some decisions about each female and her long or short term future in the herd.  If you do this now, come joining time, you may actually be able to have a select group to join with the bull and this could be the group that really does achieve the lift in production you wanted!

If you need a hand or a second opinion to help you be more objective about your cows, then I'm always happy to come out and help you work out whats going on

After all this will help me next year when you start looking for a bull to lift your herd performance that little bit higher!

Jul 09

Top tips to manage calving time

Posted on Wednesday, July 09, 2014

In northern NSW calving season is just starting.  In fact just this week I was visiting a farm just in time to see a calf being born.  Its always a great pleasure to see a calf safely delivered and for mum and the calf to be doing well. 

Managing the calving season is one of the high priority tasks for beef producers.  After all, the number of calves that can be safely born & then grow on to meet sale weights or joining weight does directly impact on your enterprise's profitability.

With this in mind, I thought I might share a few of my top tips for managing calving.

Tip 1: Put your calving heifers in a paddock that is easy to access when you are checking your heifers.  Ideally have a paddock set aside close to the yards.  There may be times when you need to asset your cows so being close to the yards will reduce stress on your animal and on yourself!

Tip 2: Checking your cattle is important and you need to do it regularly.  But don't be too intrusive!  When cows give birth, they often find a quiet spot.  Just watch and observe and only get as close as you need to. 

Tip 3: Keep a box of long vet gloves in your vehicle or if you have a store at the yards keep them there.  Personal hygiene is important, and you don't need to get birthing fluids, blood or other matter on your skin if you do have to assist your cows.  It prevents any cuts you have on your skin becoming infected.  It's also good hygiene for your cows!  While we are on that tip, keep a drum of water a towel and some soap or disinfectant in the kit as well.

Tip 4: If you do have to assist your cows and you use mechanical aids, go easy!!  Work with the cow and her contractions.  Ease the calf with the cow. Don't just pull the calf out! You could do some real damage to the calf and the cow if you are not gentle.

Tip 5:  Put your newly calved cows into a different paddock with access to good quality feed.  Remember these cows have a huge increase in energy demand with the calf at foot.  You have to match that demand with feed.  

Tip 6: Keep a record of your cows and how they handled calving.  Did you have to assist the cow?  Does she care for the cow and milk well?  These are important records to help you select and manage fertility in your herd.

Tip 7: If you are going to measure and record birth weights, do it safely!  Cows are very protective mums.  Don't assume that a quiet cow will be quiet when you approach or interfere with her calf!!

Weigh the calf in a cradle or on scales in a way that won't stress the calf unduly.  Then leave it alone once you are done.  

Ideally weighing little calves is a two person job, just so that one person can keep an eye on mum!  I remember during the cross breeding trials conducted by NSW DPI in Grafton, some cows would actually jump onto the back of the ute just to keep an eye on their calf!  Don't take safety or your cows for granted!

Tip for next year: If you are trying to calve heifers and cows over a fairly long period, you will probably start to wish calving would hurry up and end!  Theres no doubt your heifers need a fair bit of attention.  

My tip for next year, try joining your heifers to calve earlier than the cow mob.  This means joining them earlier and that way you can give them the attention they need at calving.  If they calve earlier it will give them a few more weeks to get over calving and that way you can more successfully rejoin them for the following year. This will also let you put them onto a targeted management program to ensure they are well fed and can care for their calves properly.

Calving can be a tough time with cold starts and plenty of time in the paddock.  At this time of the year a little preparation can help you manage this season more effectively for you and your cows.


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