Bull breeding soundness exams
Brett Davies from GV Vets came out today to do our bull breeding soundness exams. As well as a cow-side test for motility, semen samples will be sent to a specialist lab for morphology checks. We want to be sure that when our bulls go out to clients, they are producing viable sperm and ready to work.
This is going to make lovely cow feed. Due to the extreme dry conditions, recent frost damage and the late start to the season, most crops locally will not be able to finish well and croppers are starting to look at other options to recoup their costs. Quite a few crops around us are being cut for hay - which we are going to need lots of. Fortunately, the dry season means these failed crops should make excellent quality hay. In previous dry seasons, canola has tested as well as lucerne hay, although there won't be a huge yield this year. Canola needs to be cut at the mid- to late flowering stage, and has to be super-condioned for optimum yield and palatability. If it is not conditioned it can dry unevenly and lose a lot of leaf and palatability. I have a preference for hay as the stalkiness and spongy stem of canola can make it difficult to compact and make quality silage, although it is possible with the correct machinery and technique.
Liam Cardile of Beef Excel came out at the weekend to scan and assess our bulls and heifers. It's always good to catch up with Liam and get his expert opinion on our cattle. We are really impressed with the quality of the females coming through and some of the Dajory Latitude calves scanned really well for eye muscle. The data has been submitted to Breedplan and we have finalised our list of sale bulls which you can see on our "Bulls for Sale" page. Each young bull now has his own page with a photo, EBV chart, actual weights and pedigree. There is also a sale catalogue on Breedplan.
We are almost 3 weeks in to calving and 60% of the herd has calved. We've had 32 bulls and 9 heifers so just a little bit of a bias at the moment (but I'm not game to call it just yet). Using a synch program allows Davo to take a couple of weeks off work when most cows are calving. He says it's like Christmas, getting a new present (multiple presents) every day. It also gives him more time to weigh and tag calves, and catch up on a few jobs around the place. Even though he's been working flat out, he's in heaven!
So, it's mid-July and up until this weekend we had still only had a few mm of rain for the autumn and there's dust when we feed out the cows. The weather models tell us that anything could happen at this point from very wet to very dry with everything in between. But we need to be ready if it stays dry - it's hard to see where our spring growth is going to come from at the moment, and our feed reserves are pretty much all gone after a dry year (only 350mm compared to the region "average" of 550mm). We know we are lucky to have made it through this far because our friends further north have it much, much worse. So, with hay arriving to get us through calving and the rest of winter, we sat down to work out our plans. We won't be able to make any decisions just yet but when the spring weather models come in we'll know better what we are facing and we will be ready to act if necessary. (Update: we just had 13.5mm rain!!! - but when you get excited about 13mm rain in July, you know it's dry!)
Ted and Maisie were interviewed last week by our local rural reporter who was interested to hear about how kids on farms spend their school holidays helping on the farm. Ted talked about driving the ute in the paddock, opening gates for Dad and helping split wood, whilst Maisie was keen to tell the reporter about how she helps feed the heifers at the lease block, including her new acquisition, the lovely Glenliam Grey Lady.
With it being so dry this year (we've only had about 30 mm since January), we've had to feed for longer than usual. It's been good having a reserve of feed on hand and the new pastures sown in autumn are looking good, although feeding out every day is starting to wear a little thin. We will probably be feeding out now until calving to give the pastures a chance to get established. As you can see, the cows love their silage!
This week, one of our clients sent in a picture of the bull that he bought off us in spring. Keith Butler runs a commercial herd at Daylesford and supplies the domestic market. He's absolutely delighted with his bull, Marvel, especially his quiet temperament, and says he's the best bull he's ever had. Marvel is out of Josie H3, one of my favourite cows and it is always good to know that we are meeting our clients' needs and to find out how our bulls are growing out and performing.
This year has been extremely dry so far with about 10mm in the first quarter of the year and the calves were weaned 3 weeks ago, a bit earlier than usual. For the first week we like to keep cows, heifer calves and bull calves in adjoining paddocks separated only by a [good] electric fence so they can still see each other. We believe it reduces the stress of weaning and keeps them calmer. Then, once they have settled down and the noise has stopped we find we can move the groups to their new paddocks with little drama. Since weaning, the young bulls have been on sub hay and are doing very well. Pictured, left to right, are: Nick, Newtopia and Noah.
When we took over our farm in 2006, the soil had been heavily cropped and it has taken a bit of time to get our soil fertility up to where we would like them for ideal pasture growth. We are very pleasing to see that the most recent soil tests showed we only needed a little bit of sulphur and magnesium for our nutrients to be in the ideal range. We have applied a gypsum and magnesite blend which should do the job and from now on we will only need maintenance fertiliser applications. We like to use chook poo as a slow release nitrogen source that is currently a cheaper source of nutrients than synthetic fertilisers. Chook poo also adds organic carbon, and this, with our permanent lucerne pasture, has lifted our soil organic carbon from an extremely low level to slightly above average for our area. Organic carbon helps with soil structure and water infitration and will help our soils to capture as much rainfall as possible and hold together under wet conditions.
We weaned the calves yesterday, slightly earlier than usual due to the dry conditions. We have run out of lucerne so we don't have the green pick that we usually rely on to boost the cows' diet. Rather than feed the cows 4 bales a day instead of 2, it will be easier to feed the management groups according to their need. We've bought some sub hay to feed to the young bulls and heifers to keep up their growth rates. Once we are through weaning, we will send the cows round our lease block to clean up some standing dry feed. There are a few Kingswood sons in amongst the bull calves and all the bull calves should be in the top 10% of the breed for Supermarket Index.
We were very excited to have our new cows arrive from Rogialyn earlier this week. We have purchased Rogialyn Tarella F9, Rogialyn Antoinette N15 and Rogialyn Jupiter N13. All these animals have high IMF as well as carrying the softness and muscle we desire and should add some outcross pedigrees to our breeding program. I have had my eye on progeny from this Tarella family for a while and am grateful to Roger and David for giving me the opportunity to purchase an elite cow from their herd.
This photo of silver Manu and grey Mervyn happily sharing a hay feeder was taken just minutes after Manu was introduced to Mervyn's paddock. Manu had been running with the heifers at our lease block and has been brought home since joining is now finished. We would like to use Manu next joining and Mervyn is still for sale so we obviously didn't want either of them getting injured by fighting. To prevent the rolling scrum that you would normally see when two bulls are mixed, we put Manu in the adjoining horse paddock for a few days (with a very good electric fence in between) and moved the hay feeders close to the fence so they could get used to each other. We didn't mix them until they stopped showing an interest in each other. They have worked out who is biggest and strongest by displaying, rather than a contest of strength. As you can see, this strategy has worked a treat.
Visit to Lindsay Murray Greys
We visited Craig Grant at Lindsay Murray Greys on our way back from SA. It was nice to visit Monaro (below right) at his new home and we really enjoyed our tour of the property. Craig has a really impressive herd in a beautiful setting.
Update on Kingswood
This week we made a trip over to South Australia to see how Kingswood has matured. We were met at Clythbrae Murray Greys by Carly, one of his new owners, and spent a really pleasant afternoon, looking at Kingswood, his calves, and Mount Major Keith, another Mount Major bull at Clythbrae. Kingswood has matured into an exceptional bull as well as now being a trait leader for birthweight, 200d, 400d and 600d growth. He is currently running with a large mob of females and obviously doing a very good job, judging by the calves we saw.