BEEF: Busy calving period
Most spring calving herds are approaching their peak calving period. To reduce the buildup of harmful pathogens such as E.coli and Cryptosporidium regularly disinfect calving pens and creep areas. Ideally clean out and disinfect pens between calvings. A list of DAERA approved disinfectants can be found at: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/publications/approved-disinfectants. Ground lime can also be used to maintain hygiene in bedded pens. Use plenty of straw in the calving pens. Saving straw is a false economy if it leads to increased disease and calf mortality. Use a strong iodine solution (10%) to disinfect navels of newborn calves. Repeat after three hours.
Check the progress of cows at calving. Calving usually takes place within two hours of the water bag appearing for mature cows and three hours for heifers. If calving hasn’t happened within this time frame intervene. Check the calf is positioned correctly - two front feet with the nose above them. Use a calving jack as an aid only, jacking in conjunction with the cows natural contractions. Use plenty of lubricant. Indiscriminate use can damage both the cow and calf. If inexperienced or unsure, seek veterinary assistance. Once born, if the calf shows little sign of life, use a piece of straw to irritate the nostrils to stimulate the respiratory system. Pouring cold water on the ears may also help to liven it up. Hanging a calf over a gate from its back legs for 20-30 seconds can help remove fluid. Put it in the recovery position, sitting up. Difficult calvings often results in drowsy calves which are less willing to suckle for themselves. If the calf won’t suck from a bottle and teat use a stomach tube. Ideally feed 2.5 to 3 litres of the cow’s own colostrum within an hour of birth.
SHEEP: Lambing records
Record as much information as possible at lambing to help with future culling and replacement decisions. Cull ewes based on poor mothering ability and persistent health issues such as prolapse, lameness, difficult lambing and mastitis. If you are keeping your own replacements now is the time to identify possible candidates. Ideally a ram would have been selected at tupping to breed future replacements with good maternal traits. Select lambs from twin or triplet births from your best ewes. Select surplus to requirements to allow for mortality and poor performance. Keeping good records doesn’t have to be high-tech. There are a range of options, including EID recording systems, to suit a range of budgets.
Turning out ewes and lambs
Turn out ewes and lambs to sheltered areas as soon as weather and ground conditions allow. Mark ewes and lambs with large numbering to allow easy identification and matching of ewes and lambs if they need to be rehoused due to mis-mothering, disease, etc. Treat ewes for fluke and worms before turnout. Healthy mature ewes generally have good immunity to most worms so the need to drench is reduced. However the stress of lambing and lactation can reduce the ewe’s immunity, resulting in higher numbers of eggs being shed on pasture which will be grazed by lambs. To minimise contamination of pasture treat at least 24-48 hours before turnout. If the ewes are already at grass, ideally return them to an area which is least likely to be grazed by sheep and lambs. Rotate products based on the wormer group previously used. Leaving 10% of ewes untreated will reduce wormer resistance. Only select healthy fit ewes to remain untreated. However, if treating ewes for fluke treat them all. If there is a high incidence of lameness (more than 5%) in the flock get veterinary advice to identify the cause and treat accordingly. The options your vet will suggest may include treatment with antibiotics and/or the use of vaccines.
Check soil analyses and plan applications of slurry and chemical fertilisers based on phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) indices. Target slurry and compound fertilisers to ground with low indices for P and K (0 and 1). Where pH is low lime will need to be spread. Avoid spreading slurry and lime at the same time as this will increase losses of nitrogen (N) to the atmosphere. At low pH, nearly half of applied N can be unavailable to grass, greatly reducing the value of applied fertilisers.
If spreading urea, do so in cool damp conditions to reduce N losses to the atmosphere. There are also products on the market containing additives which counteract this loss. Urea is a cheaper source of N per unit than CAN, however it can end up more expensive if spread in the wrong conditions.