Ian Ratcliffe’s fantastic calves hit top 10

We are now at the tail-end of calving, with 35 left to go in the last month. It’s passed quickly and without too many dramas, with three or four calving a day, which we can easily deal with.

The fresh cows have been tricky to manage, with some of the older bought-in animals struggling to settle and suffering retained cleansings, which has been frustrating. We have used a fair bit of broad-spectrum penicillin, but it’s cheaper than a DA and hopefully being reactive to it will help our fertility performance later on.

We have been grazing the herd night and day, but with the bad weather, despite our best efforts, we’re noticing condition loss and ketosis creeping in, so we took the decision to house by night. We’ve also started feeding potatoes, which has worked well as a cheap source of starch, and we have seen a noticeable improvement in bulling activity.

The calves have been fantastic compared with last year, when Crypto played havoc. We put thriftier calves down to building alterations, making for a better ventilated and easily disinfected environment. One pen is rested at all times, we vaccinate against rotavirus, coronavirus and E coli K99, and use cow rather than heifer colostrum. As a result we’ve regularly hit the top 10 at market, which was our aim and an important income stream for our system.

We will met-check and tail paint the herd next week in preparation for serving in a month’s time and have decided to serve with Swedish Red, Friesian and Holstein. This should hopefully balance our variable herd to breed an animal more suited to our system. We feel this will be the key to our business, as when buying in cows we never quite get what we want. A compact, efficient, yet milky cow is an animal any farmer wants, so why would they want to sell them to me?

Ian Ratcliffe, 27, took on the family farm in Cheshire, comprising 121ha on 1 April 2011. He aims to calve 230 in an autumn block averaging 7,000-8,000 litres a cow a year, maximising milk from forage.

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