3 September 1999

Careful eye is kept on cows condition

ENSURING quality calves are weaned off cows in late October means a careful eye on cow management and breeding.

Cow condition is helped during the summer by creep feeding calves, says Ms Hill. Although the herd runs over 355 forage ha (877 acres), consisting mainly of rented permanent pasture, cows and calves are kept in small groups, with the biggest being 30 cows. This helps keep the calving pattern as tight as possible, with bulls running with cows until mid August.

Cows are run outside until late January on grass and grass silage. "They come inside in good calving order and have no concentrate feed once housed. We want them to be fit but not fat as we try to avoid difficult calvings," says Mr Francis.

Any cows which are looking a bit too thin at weaning will stay inside. "Often they will put condition on just because they are not having to cope with the elements."

Cow condition at calving is important as many of the sucklers are Belgian Blue crosses. However Mr Francis says he is careful when selecting replacements and when working out the breeding policy to ensure they have plenty of Friesian blood in the cows to ensure calving difficulties are kept to a minimum.

"Its not that Belgian Blues are too hard to calve, but I prefer not to take a chance. With any cow you occasionally have an enormous calf and then the following year a tiny one."

All Belgian Blue crosses go to a Piemontese bull, while Piemontese crosses go to a Belgian Blue bull, apart from any heifers, which are served by a Piemontese bull.

"Piemontese crosses are slightly finer boned, so are unlikely to cause calving problems," says Mr Francis. Any remaining suckler cows are bulled by a Belgian Blue.

But Belgian Blue cross cows mated to a Piemontese bull is Mr Franciss preferred match. "It works better this way because of conformation and because calves have plenty of milk from their mothers."