I’d like to say ‘oh, what a difference a year makes’ but with another drought potentially on the horizon, perhaps less has changed since 2022 than I’d hoped. One thing is for sure, the majority of the suckler cows are finally meeting their Body Condition Score (BCS) targets! After a tight summer and outwintering on 2 year old silage, the average BCS of 4.5/5 (obese) has fallen to 3/5 (just right) at calving. We used a few new bulls last year, all with easy calving EBVs though some calves were larger than expected but were born without assistance in part due to the lack of fat within the pelvis.

After an expensive time feeding through the drought, it was a welcome relief to sell the majority of last years Limousin calves as stores. Prior to weaning, they all received an intranasal pneumonia vaccine and got their final weighing (weigh tape). They all hit their Daily Liveweight Gain Target of >1.3kg per day and it will be interesting to see if we can replicate this with the Speckle Parks.

Last year we AI’d with a Limousin and Speckle Park, then swept with an Angus. After years of using Limousin bulls, we have taken the plunge and bought a Speckle Park bull this year. The aim is to improve the maternal traits in replacement heifers: increasing milk production and pelvic width, whilst toning down the temperament. This Canadian hybrid was only recognised as an official breed in 2006 and is a combination of a Beef Shorthorn, Angus and White Park. It is predominantly found in Canada and Australia but is gaining popularity in the UK for its >70% carcass kill out value, quiet temperament and high muscle growth from grass alone. The breed is polled, which has somewhat confused me as many of my calf husbandry tasks revolve around the disbudding, so I now have more time on my hands and freedom to do these small jobs around turnout instead.

Calving is drawing to a close now, however it has felt like much longer than 12 weeks as most of the gestation lengths ran over 290 days. Having breeding dates for the first time has halved our dry cow roll use, as we have housed and given rolls to only the true dry cows instead of everyone. We only have a couple left to calve, including a second calver with huge bottle teats which I have learnt are called ‘Windy Teats’ in Wales. In Australia, 5-6% of beef calf deaths are attributed to bottle teats, where the improving plane of nutrition causes an increase in milk production which puts pressure on the teats and stretches them. After peak lactation the teats reduce in size – it’s just a challenge in the short term to get a calf’s mouth around them!

I’m sporting a good tan after spending many hours digging up Ragwort that didn’t respond well to spot spraying. The heavy rain in March and warm April/May temperatures have caused a boom in poisonous plants which we have seen causing disease in grazing herds throughout the LLM area. Keep an eye out for any garden waste that is thrown into fields as Rhododendron and Azalea bush clippings cause dramatic vomiting and death, with the inquisitive nature of heifers making them particularly at risk. It’s worth familiarising yourself with these plants, putting on some gloves and walking the fields (particularly margins) to pull them up.

Aside from the cows, we have started a small herd of Large Black pigs and are eagerly expecting our second litter of piglets! We renovated the old Staffordshire

Key poisonous plants:

‘Poultiggery’ (sty with poultry loft) which worked well for winter housing and the pigs are now enjoying wallowing outside to keep cool. Later this month I am going to the Groundswell Conference, courtesy of a Future Farmers of Yorkshire bursary, to learn more about regenerative practices for the smaller scale farm.