Farmer Focus: Spring block calving is a mental test

Spring is forever a challenge on any farm, especially if you run a grass-based, block-calving herd. The weather is the biggest obstacle.

Even when you farm somewhere like we do (a sieve) and you can get out and graze as soon as the rain stops, the moments when the tap has been turned off seem fewer than usual this year.

Having more than 70% of our herd calve down in three weeks has been intense, to say the least, but the haze is now beginning to lift and sleepless nights spent calving are behind us.

The flip side of spring is the challenge to our mental health and wellbeing when finding ways to cope with all that might be thrown in your direction.

See also: Fodder beet proves cost-effective for spring-calving herd

We have all been in the scenario where you drag yourself out of bed to a difficult calving, only to discover mastitis in the parlour, scour in the calf house, a flat tractor tyre and burst water pipe on the yard. Getting through those days is a survival skill. 

With more than twice the average rainfall in February and a greater level of silage in the cows’ diet than preferred, March is already churning up management headaches.

Do we have enough fodder to last through a further prolonged spell of poor weather? How will our grazing management now affect grass supply in April?

What can we do to keep grass in the diet as well as having high-energy, quality feed for supplement?

The answers to all these questions lie in planning and simply sitting down together and putting a strategy on paper.

Working through potential issues that may crop up prepares you for the worst and gives you a sense of calm simply because you have a plan B or C.

Cows are currently on a diet of 3kg ration in the parlour, 10kg dry matter grass and silage in the shed at night.

Our once-a-day system is yielding 20 litres a cow at 5.25% fat, 3.67% protein and a somatic cell count of 66,000/ml.

Here’s hoping that the March which has come in like a lion, goes out like a lamb.


Gillian O’Sullivan is a dairy farmer from southern Ireland. Read more.