FARMIMG MATTERS: Turnout for the suckler herd

Picture copyright Heather Jan Brunt
Picture copyright Heather Jan Brunt

Spring turnout for the suckler herd is always a lovely time. After spending the winter months in the yards, the cows and calves are over the moon to get out into the fresh air and enjoy space and new grass.

This year turnout was a little later than usual due to the weather. A rainy spring made the ground too wet, it was generally cold and the grass wasn’t growing.

But when things changed it came quickly and there was a sudden very lush growth in grass.

Prior to turnout is a good time to disbud the calves, because if they have horns, they are little more e than buds at this early stage and very easy to remove.

If they are left until the cattle come in for their summer check up the horns would be much bigger and removing them would take longer.

So if possible it is best to disbud them at spring turnout. This involves separating the cows and calves and putting the calves into the small calf crush where they are held during the process.

They are given an injection of local anaesthetic and then the buds are burnt out with a cauterising iron. If they are slightly longer than half an inch then the tops are nipped off with a sharp cutter first.

Afterwards, the area is sprayed with a purple antiseptic.

Not all the calves have horns. We use a polled bull to try and increase the amount of polled calves in the herd, but as most of the cows did originally have horns, approximately two thirds of the calves born are born with horn buds.

At turnout the cows know exactly what to do because they have been out before of course, but for the calves, who have been born indoors, it is a new experience to be in so much space. They don’t understand and need a bit of encouragement to go out, but once there they love it.

For the first few days the herd is confined to a small paddock near the buildings, to give the calves an opportunity to understand space and so they will not get lost even if the cows wander off and leave them. But soon they understand and the gate is opened to a bigger grazing area, and they skip about and love to race each other.

Check out this column online on Saturday where you can watch a video of spring turnout.