Farmer Focus: Calving calamities test the nerve

Some weeks are tougher than others when farming. I often find the hardest one’s in March. Calamities haven’t been helped by falling milk prices.

Ours has slipped 10p/litre to a base of 43p/litre.

Grass is tight, weather is tricky and cows are often full of surprises. As farming goes, some weeks bring all the bother in one sitting. 

See also: 12 tips on rearing heifers to last longer

About the author

Gillian O’Sullivan
Livestock Farmer Focus writer Gillian O’Sullivan milks 100 crossbred cows once-a-day with her husband Neil and father Michael on Ireland’s South-East coast. They operate a seasonal calving, grass-based system with milk supplied to Tirlán.
Read more articles by Gillian O’Sullivan

With just a handful of cows to calve, things had gone relatively smoothly up to this point.

The week began with one dry cow, who had her pick of cubicles in a mostly empty shed, managing to end up with the top of her teat missing.

It was the type of degloving injury (when top layers of skin and tissue are torn away from the underlying muscle) that no amount of ointment can help regrow.

The next cow, having shown no signs of springing, calved in the cubicles and the calf got its fetlock gashed by the automatic scraper.

The following day, another cow in for calving looked uneasy just when we thought she should be getting down to business, and a huge, dead, beef bull calf eventually came out.

This happened again with another cow two days later.

As I clenched my teeth while jacking out the second calf, close to midnight and on my own, I looked around bewildered as if there was some malevolent presence that had descended.

The blue tongue of the calf told its own story and it hadn’t been easy on the cow.

Looking back to our bull selections for artificial insemination the previous May, we had gone with a slightly stronger Hereford bull on the recommendation of the breeding company.

We had hoped to produce better calves for the beef farmer. They had been solid, but one cow had needed stitches after a vaginal tear.

Apparently, we were advised, there were no issues with calving when used on mature cows.

What would the next day bring? The rain retreated and I could feel the warmth of the sun on my skin –  a real hint that growth and change were just around the corner, and the type of day you could just drink up.

That is the double-edged sword of farming. The highs are higher, but despite your best efforts, the lows are definitely lower.