Take the stress away for suckler calves

OPEN-ENDED: The large, airy calf building at Shanside is partially sunk into the ground. The original plan was to have Yorkshire boarding across the ends but it is working well so, for the time being, has been left as it is

OPEN-ENDED: The large, airy calf building at Shanside is partially sunk into the ground. The original plan was to have Yorkshire boarding across the ends but it is working well so, for the time being, has been left as it is

First published in Farming

Management of the beef suckler herd was the focus of an SAC Consulting event hosted by Klondyke Farms in Dumfriesshire. Neil Ryder attended

SUCKLER beef production, pedigree Galloway cattle breeding and sheep enterprises based on bought-in animals make up the farming business run by Klondyke Farms.

Shanside was bought by the late Bob Gault and his wife, Dorothy, 14 years ago who also later added two neighbouring farms, effectively doubling the area farmed.

The Klondyke name is taken from the chain of garden centres founded by Mr and Mrs Gault in the 1980s.

The chain now has 25 centres with the farm supplying meat to their farm shops.

Farms manager Scott McKinnon came to Shanside 23 years ago. The modern farm covers about 1,376ha (3,400 acres) of which about 284ha (700 acres) are rented and the rest owned.

Cattle are 550 commercial beef suckler cows, of which 350 are spring calvers and the rest autumn calvers.

There is also a 100 breeding cow pedigree Galloway herd, split equally between spring and autumn calvers.

Apart from cattle retained for herd replacements or for breeding, including pedigree sales, all calves are finished for beef.

The farm’s original 1,400- strong sheep flock was dropped five years ago and has been replaced by 400- 500 bought-in ewe lambs, which are reared and sold as gimmers, plus 1,000-1,200 wintering hoggs.

About 160 acres of spring and 30 acres of winter cereals are grown both as grain and as wholecrop. A further 350-400 tonnes of barley are bought in annually and sourced locally as far as possible.

Around 243ha (600 acres) of grass are taken for silage.

A deal has been made with a local sawmill for regular supplies of sawdust for bedding with bought-in straw used solely for feeding.

One of the key messages from advisers at the event was that the weaning of suckled calves should be managed carefully to keep stress to a minimum and make the process as smooth as possible.

Rhidian Jones, SAC consultant, said: “Suckler calves have a great deal happening to them all at once at weaning.

This includes abrupt removal from their mother, change in environment such as housing, changes in feeding, and medications.

“We should aim to make this process as smooth and stress-free as possible for the calf.”

Shanside has 215 spring born calves, including Charolais and Limousin crosses plus pure Galloways.

They were born from Mid- March to the end of May.

“They were dehorned at the end of May and vaccinated against blackleg and tetanus in mid-July and again in mid-August,” said Mr Jones. “In mid-August they are also vaccinated against three key respiratory diseases plus BVD, repeated in mid-September.

“Creep-feeding was introduced in August to get the calves used to solid feed before housing. They are weaned in batches according to size and sex and treated with a pour-on wormer at housing.”

Farm manager, Scott McKinnon added that the calves were brought into a large, shed with plenty of space while their dams were housed close by for a week after cows and calves had been separated. This enabled them to hear each other, reducing stress for both.

The large shed housing the calves was open-ended largely by default. The plan was to put Yorkshire boarding across the ends but, simply, the farm team had not done this.

Overall ventilation in the shed worked extremely well, so it was being left open, at least for the time being.

The lying area was freedraining hardcore with about nine inches of sawdust on top while the concrete feeding area was scraped out three times a week.

While most farmers have a handle on dealing with respiratory disease in spring-born calves, the “elephant in the room” remained dealing with the condition when housing autumn born calves, Zoetis vet Will Sheppard said.

He said levels of respiratory disease were closely linked to environmental change – the most changeable period tended to be the late autumn and the biggest change came when calves were housed.

The calves may have a low level of infection out of doors when viruses could only live for a short period, but could live ten times as long in the housed environment.

Housed calves were also likely to be closer to adult cattle than in the field and therefore more vulnerable to respiratory infections.

Mr Sheppard said: “Invest some money now and save money in the long run. The investments are basically investing in the environment you are keeping the animals in.

“Build a shed for 20 to 30 years, bring the experts in, and it is worth spending to get it right. Vaccines have a part to play but they are only as good as how you use them. Look at what happened last year and have a plan for this year.”

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