In this week’s Suckler Focus segment, That’s Farming, talks to Amie Coonan about dairy-bred cows, compact calving (achieving a 7-week calving rate), nutrition and grassland management.
According to part-time suckler farmer, Amie Coonan, Templemore, County Tipperary, achieving a compact calving period is imperative.
The 27-year-old works full-time as an area sales manager with Dairygold whilst farming a 38-cow suckler herd with her mother, Agnes. The duo was involved in dairying up until 2009 and now farm 38 commercial suckler cows, whilst bucket-rearing approximately 20 calves annually.
The herd’s oldest breeding females are Blonde-cross-Limousins, although the Tipperary natives have moved to a different cow-type with dairy influence in recent years.
“A Limousin stock bull serves all cows; he is producing lovely, shapely calves that need little assistance at birth,” Amie told That’s Farming.
“We purchased our bull from the Ardlea herd in Mountrath. He is on his third season with us, and we are very happy with his calves to date. He has Brutus Hashtag and Wilodge Vantastic in his breeding.”
7-week calving rate
Generally, the mother and daughter duo calf all cows from February 1st, and aim to finish by the end of March. This year, they had their first calf on the ground on January 23rd and had just four cows left to calf when we conducted this interview in mid-March.
“Compact calving is essential when suckler farming. An early-born calf can have 90 days extra LWG achieved compared to his April-born counterpart. That can easily equate to 100kg, which is all profit lost.”
Last year, they pulled their stockbull from the paddock to ensure no cows calved after March 31st, with all cows scanned in-calf to a 7-week calving spread.
“I put most of this down to cows’ BCS. We feed cows a simple diet of silage while indoors with a good pre-calver mineral, but they always come into the shed in great condition.”
“We try to get cows out to grass as soon as the weather allows after calving. Grass is higher in energy than silage which will put them in a good position pre-breeding.”
Cow-type and culling regime
Amie’s ideal cow-type is a Belgian-Blue-cross-Friesian due to their temperament, maternal traits, and an ability to “produce an exceptional quality calf”. “This is the perfect cow for our Limousin stockbull, in my eyes.”
“We sell all our stock as yearlings out of the shed in March. We find there is a great market for grass cattle at that time of year, and they usually do well for us. The bullocks averaged 435kg last year out of the shed.”
They source all their replacements from dairy herds, purchasing a batch of calves, with Belgian Blue, Charolais or Simmental blood and keeping the highest-performing heifers for replacements. “This also ensures we get a good lifetime out of our stock bull as we do not keep his offspring.”
“We calf heifers at 3-years-old. We do need to work on bringing this back, but nerves get the better of me. I would need to watch a 2-year-old Belgian-Blue-cross heifer in-calf to a Limousin bull carefully at calving.”
“Our cows are like part of the family. We will keep a cow unless there is an issue with her. This year, we culled two cows, one which was 16-years-old, but unfortunately was starting to get bad on her feet, and the other was not performing in terms of calf quality.”
Amie has placed emphasis on grassland management for the last couple of years, and she can see the fruits of her labour in weaning weights.
They run a paddock system for the most part, with cows and calves moved to fresh grass every second or third day.
“The calves can also creep ahead if they are clever enough. Grass is the cheapest feed we have available, so it is important to utilise it when it is at the most nutritious growing point.”
When all cattle are at grass, the workload lightens considerably, which makes farming life more manageable for Amie and her mother.
“We have been farming together for a few years now. I learn something new every day when working with her. Generally, we tend to share most of the workload between us. We do the everyday jobs in the morning before I go to work and again in the evening.”
“It is great that mam is around during the day to keep an eye on cows calving at this time of year. I find this time of year challenging, coming up to week five or six of calving. The energy levels start to deteriorate after the late nights up calving cows and long hours.”
“But it is all worth it when you see those calves thriving. Honestly, I get great enjoyment out of producing good quality cattle and seeing them racing around the fields in full health,” added Amie, who graduated from UCD in 2018 with a degree in animal and crop production.
“I farm because I enjoy it. I won’t become a millionaire from sucklers. Suckler cow numbers are dropping year on year in Ireland. If we are not paid adequately for the stock, we produce, that will continue.” Amie warned.