Peter Hynes – Calving well underway at Rathard

Calving is well & truly here at Rathard Holsteins. The herd has just hit its due date and the next week to ten days should be really hectic. We synchronised our heifers for breeding in 2019 using a CIDR program and with 75% of those now calved, it has been very successful. We breed all heifers to G1 Holstein bulls, something we will discuss further in time, but ultimately our heifers are our best genetics. We can achieve maximum genetic gain by making this breeding decision.

We are currently running 80% heifer calves and as luck would have it the 20% of bulls also includes Hereford bull calves. We used the Gene Ireland Hereford bull pack in 2019, although it’s early days, HE4679 seems to be throwing calves 4 to 5 days before due date, good news from a dairy perspective. Ultimately, we want short gestation, easy calving beef bulls. Our breeding policy here is any cow we do not want a replacement heifer from gets inseminated with beef from day one of breeding. We know we will have surplus heifers so having plenty of beef calves early adds a little to cash flow. All beef calves & Holstein bulls are sold to another beef farm at 14 days; however, we retain some Holstein bulls of high genetic merit whilst we await genotype results.

Our calf rearing policy here is that cows get milked via a portable milking machine within an hour of calving, the calf gets bottle fed 3 litres of colostrum as soon as possible. It really gives the calves a phenomenal start in life and we see strong calves within a few weeks, with very little health or disease issues. When cows join the milking herd, we have a diversion line in the parlour so we don’t run two groups of cows.

Currently cows are receiving 4kgs a meal and they are out at grass every day running three-hour grazings due to the deterioration in weather conditions.

Calves get moved to individual pens for 3 to 4 days, we’ve found this a handy management tool as calves only leave the individual pen once they are drinking strongly on a teat bucket. They settle in better to groups this way as beef calves go into pens of ten fed on a group feeder whilst heifer calves go onto a computerised feeder. All heifers are reared on heiferlac, we’ve been using it for 6 years now and although its slightly dearer, in terms of cost per calf it is minimal, and we certainly end up with super heifer calves come weaning time. We also introduce Calfhage to all calves from day 2 as we’ve noticed early, faster and increased intakes, ultimately the priority is to develop the rumen, and this works successfully for us. We started using calf rugs 2 years ago and now all heifer calves wear rugs, we would probably use them on beef calves aswell except the beef farm doesn’t use them so those calves run on a program that is mirrored on the beef farm to ensure minimal change to the calf.

Genotype kits will be arriving for all heifer calves in the next few days so we will prioritise returning them to ensure we get results as quickly as possible.

We’re really looking forward to welcoming the ICBF team on farm next week so keep an eye on their social media channels for lots of updates, no doubt we’ll have great fun on the day and hopefully a few calvings aswell plus further updates on the farm.

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