“Does my bum look fat in this?”
Yes, 1108, I’m afraid it does.
How do you know when a cow is fat? It’s not the size of her belly that counts – it is the hollows around her tail and 1108 barely has any. Come to that, she barely has any milk either, which is why she’s got a red stripe painted on her rear. 1108 should be in calf but my suspicion is that she’s not.
We have her and another five cows booked in for pregnancy tests on Tuesday and if she’s in calf, we’ll treat her with a mastitis preventative and send her on holiday to a paddock across the road. If there’s no calf, she will have to be sold.
While many of our cows do not fall pregnant every year, most of them milk well until they are blessed by the bull the next season. In fact, joining cows only every 18 months (“extended lactation“) is now considered a viable strategy for Victorian farmers.
It’s something that we have adopted here for cows that don’t conceive quickly and it works for almost the entire herd.
Fingers crossed, 1108.
Over the past week, only half a dozen cows have calved. The next decision will be when to take the bulls out of the herd.
Traditionally, our herd begins to calve in mid-July but we’re in transition towards a new start date. Because the winters seem to be warmer and the springs shorter here, we began to mate the cows last July for an April 20 start to calving (like people, cows have a nine-month gestation period).
This is designed to match the cows’ peak production of milk with the peak growth of grass and reduce the need to maintain high energy levels over summer, which is a tough time to keep fodder up to the cows on a rain-fed rather than an irrigated farm.
So, when to stop? Some farmers arrange mating dates to have a couple of batches of calves throughout the year, relatively few calve all year round and most aim for seasonal calving over a period of eight to 12 weeks. These days, it’s becoming increasingly hard to get all the cows in calf each year and not all cows need to be pregnant annually to produce well. Extended lactation, as it’s called, is now very common for a portion of dairy herds and, according to the gurus like Greg O’Brien at the Department of Primary Industries, could be quite viable.
Since I want to shift our start date and rapidly shorten the calving season from our current transitory (and excruciating) six months, I’m inclined to be reassured by Greg’s advice and pull the bulls out earlier rather than later. Last year, it was New Year’s Day, this year, I’m considering mid-November. It’ll be mostly the late calvers who miss out under this regime and because we’ll be mating again in July, extended lactation is even less of an issue – it’s not a two-year lactation, anyhow.
In the next couple of weeks, we’ll arrange a pregnancy test for the cows who either calved early this year or didn’t calve at all. The vets are confident of due dates when pregnancies are at least eight weeks.
Wish me luck!