Farm Life: Spring

Hello again, it seems we’re in June; how did that happen!? So, it must be time to settle down and write Spring’s farm update!

Farm life means living with the seasons, in-tune to Mother Nature, and in no season is that more apparent than this. Spring always reminds me of the quote, “nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished”, by a Chinese philosopher, called Lao Tzu. Whether it’s an early Spring or a late one, a dry one or a wet one, eventually, everything emerges from its Winter hibernation.


March

March is the month where everything begins to kick up a notch. Calves are hitting the ground left, right and centre, the crops are starting to flourish, and ergo, so are the weeds, and the grassland begins to be prepared for silaging and turn-out.

This year, March brought along a couple of firsts

After mentioning in Winter’s update that calving had started off uneventfully, March began with a bang, (not literally, thank goodness). A first-calver went into labour, and after a little while with no progress, she was directed into the crush to be examined… low and behold, just one front leg and a head presented (instead of both legs and the head, in a ‘diving’ position).

Back it was pushed and the second leg located, calving ropes attached, and my dad and uncle slowly worked the calf back into the birth canal as the heifer contracted… where it promptly got stuck. Sadly, they realised the calf was already dead, but they still had to get it out. With time, patience and sweat, a massive calf was pulled out, the size of it, unfortunately, causing the heifer to ‘go down’ (nerve damage, caused by the difficult calving, meaning temporary loss of use of the back legs). A first for us, having never had a down cow before.

Another local farmer to the rescue, who kindly lent us a clamp which lifts the cow from their hips. It’s important to keep lifting them and rolling them onto a different side, to try and stop the nerves being permanently damaged. Determined not to lose the heifer as well as the calf, we lifted her 4 times a day, and miraculously, after a week, she briefly stood on her own for a second!

Three weeks more of lifting, first with the hip clamp and then with a sling made of ratchet straps so she could walk a bit whilst still supported, and she was back on her feet and walking, in a fashion. She’s gone from strength to strength since, and you would never guess to look at her now. Our vet was very surprised to see her looking so well, as apparently, it’s rare for them to recover if they aren’t walking within a week. All’s well that ends well, I guess; it was a learning curve, but not something we’d like a repeat of!

The other first was a much more welcomed one…

Gertrude, one of our Lincoln Red cows, had twins for the second year running; both healthy and born unassisted, phew!

We don’t normally like the prospect of twins with the cows, there’s a much higher risk of malpresentations and mortality, but Gertrude seems to have it down to a fine art. Maybe she’ll have a third set next year? We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on her daughter to see if the twin gene has been passed on! Not this year’s daughter though, as she’s a twin to a bull, which means she’s most likely infertile. I haven’t got a clue why it works like that in cows, I think it’s something to do with male hormones crossing the placenta… Hmmm, I’ll have to go and do some googling and find out!

April

We’re aiming for mid-April to be the end of our calving block, but it’s a s-l-o-w process; pulling everyone back a little each year, from our previous spring/summer/autumn calving… The latter half of April gets a bit busy with regards to drilling spring sown crops and starting to mow the first-cut silage for customers, so the theory is, if calving is finished by then, it’ll make things a tad less hectic. We’re not there yet though!

At the beginning of the month, all the rest of the previous year’s calves were sold. We had planned to keep some of the heifers for breeding, but things haven’t *quite* gone to plan with keeping our own crossbred replacements (a mixture of difficult calvings, less milk and more flightiness than their pure Lincoln Red mothers…). So, we decided to sell them and buy in more purebreds this year, from the same farm all our other Lincolns are originally from. We also needed their shed to put half the herd into, as we currently have 2 bulls, and therefore, 2 herds, (the bulls went in with the cows on 28th April, meaning calving should begin around the second week of February next year).

April is also turn-out month- weather dependant! There’s no sight quite like a herd of cows and calves careering into a field of fresh grass; watching the calves gingerly sniff at the strange looking green stuff, before bravely trying a mouthful. As April showers were non existent this year, the ground was dry enough to turn-out onto almost from the start, but we held off until the end of the month. With no rain on the horizon, there’d be no grass regrowth once they’d eaten off the current cover!

May

We were relieved to see the return of the rain this May, meaning our own grass had an extra burst of growth, and part of it was ready to be mown mid-month. Therefore, half of the cow’s winter feed of silage is now baled, wrapped and stacked neatly away; now just to keep the birds and wayward children off it, to stop the wrap being torn and the bales going mouldy before we use them!

In case you’re wondering, silage bales are made of grass which has been baled and wrapped, after wilting long enough to reduce the moisture content to about 70%; it’s basically ‘pickled’ grass. It has a higher feed value than hay, as the longer the grass is left to dry out, the more nutrients are lost. The right amount of moisture is needed for the grass to correctly ferment, and therefore, be preserved so it can be fed in winter.

We’ll be needing all the silage we can make this winter, as we picked up another 5 Lincoln Reds this May, also known as Red Elephants! They seem to have settled in well; now to think of some names for them. We’re on ‘I’ this year… We try and name each group of cows with the same letter of the alphabet, so we can keep track of who’s the same age. Apart from the odd one, who is named randomly; like ‘Splodge’, when all the others her age are the ‘G’ year!

Officially Spring calving…

May has ended with smiles all around… We finished calving! For the first time, we can say we are a spring calving herd only; having usually aimed for that but ended up with a few stragglers in July! With only 3 left to calve come May, they of course waited until the end of the month before doing so. In fact, Hilda, the final one, calved on 31st May; you can’t get much closer than that!

The end has prompted some reflection on this season. I’d say, overall, Calving 2019 has gone fairly well. There was just 1 loss, and with 1 set of twins, that still brings our calving percentage to 100%. However, for some reason, whether it’s the genetics of the heifers, or the bull, nutrition, or a combination of everything, every first-time heifer needed assistance to calve. It’s strange, as last year heifers of the same breeding, and to the same bull, all calved unassisted. We’re leaning towards nutrition being the culprit- time for some dieting next year, a sort of Bovine Slimming World!

It’s nice to have some empty sheds now. The only problem we have is keeping the cattle in the fields… Almost every week, a footpath walker coming through the farmyard, knocks on the door to say there’s an escapee calf on the lane. Hopefully, they’ll all be too big to fit between the strands of wire soon!


So, that brings this season to a close. Thank you for reading, I hope it wasn’t toooo long; there was a lot to fit in!

Now then, Summer, let’s be ‘aving you…

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