Tullamore Farm places a big focus on keeping calves as healthy as possible on the farm.

A good start is half the battle when it come to suckling and health management probably starts during the previous breeding season when AI bulls are selected for use in the herd.

High replacement index bulls, balanced for terminal traits and coming in with a calving difficulty figure of between 6% and 8% are picked each year for inseminating cows.

Hard-calving bulls are avoided at all costs as the risk is just too high in a single labour unit system.

Tullamore Farm manager Shaun Diver said: “We keep in regular contact with our vet Donal Lynch and make any health decisions on the farm in conjunction with him.

“A prevention rather than cure ethos has been adopted on the farm over the last few years and this has reduced vet callouts and antibiotic usage.”

Suckler cow management

Cows were batched at housing time on Tullamore Farm, according to body condition score.

The first-calved heifers had the lowest body condition score and these were housed separately during the last few months and offered the best-quality first-cut silage on the farm.

Another pen of older cows that came in a little more lacking in flesh than Shaun would have liked were also housed separately and offered good-quality silage.

Cows were housed on slats during the winter. Cows receive their scour vaccine three to six weeks pre-calving. Once cows come within a week or so of calving, they move down to a different shed where they can feed on slats and lie on straw.

Shaun uses the expected calving report on the ICBF HerdPlus account.

This report generates a calving date for each cow on the farm based on the date she was artificially inseminated and the gestation length of the bull. It’s a really useful tool to determine calving dates for moving cows to calving areas.

Tullamore Farm vet Donal Lynch is a big fan of trying to get cows’ hides to dry up and clean up a little before calving. This, he says, will reduce the chances of calf scour with particular reference to cryptosporidium.

Clipping was also mentioned but trying to clip around cows’ udders in a crush would be a health and safety issue, so Shaun didn’t go with that option.

The farm is lucky in that it has purchased straw from the same local tillage farmer for the last number of years and there was no issue getting the straw that the farm required this year back in autumn 2023.

Saying that, the majority of cows spend most of their time on slats with cows just moving on to straw around calving time. Most of the farm’s straw supplies are reserved for lambing and calving and creep areas for early-born calves.


The majority of the cows on the farm calve themselves but there is always need for vigilance if a cow isn’t progressing well at calving time.

It’s a question that comes up every year; when do you intervene at calving time?

Go in too early and you run the risk of the cow not being open enough to calve and you could run into all sorts of bother if you start to assist too early.

March is the busiest month for calving with 40 cows due to calve in the next month.

Leave her too long and you run the risk of the calf smothering. Sometimes, it’s best to go with your gut and if you think a cow should be further on at calving than she is, a simple hand investigation for malpresentation is warranted.

You don’t need to go in to pull a calf at this stage; you just need to do a quick check to make sure that both feet and head are presented as they should be. If everything is coming good, it’s fine to let the cow progress herself.

Vet Donal Lynch says that progress is the key point to look for rather than putting a time limit on it. Heifers may take a little longer than cows but once a heifer is making progress, it’s fine to let nature work away itself.

It is when that progress stops and you have a cow pointing feet for an hour and nothing is happening, that you need to see if she requires assistance.

There are two calving gates on Tullamore Farm and they are essential in assisting any calving.

Shaun likes to tie the back of the calving gate with a rope rather than the chain that is on the gate. He reckons a rope is very easy to cut if a cow happens to go down in the calving gate during the calving process.

A locked chain would be a lot harder to shift in that situation. Patience is key at this point and working with the cow’s contractions.

It’s not a race to see how fast you can ratchet the jack to get the calf out.

Working with the cow and using the jack as a lever, as well as a pulling mechanism, will offer the best outcome.

A calving jack in the wrong hands can do a lot of damage to both cow and calf, so it’s important to use it with care.

Newborn calf protocol

Once a calving is assisted on Tullamore Farm, the rule is that the calf gets three litres of the cow’s own colostrum as soon as possible after birth.

If the cow can’t be milked or hasn’t enough colostrum, Shaun has a stock of colostrum from a local dairy farmer which is a Johne’s-free herd.

If a cow calves unassisted, the cow and calf are monitored to make sure that the calf sucks. Calves’ navels are treated with chlorohexidine immediately after birth.

Calves are also tagged at birth with both BVD and DNA tag samples posted on a weekly basis.

A calving jack in the wrong hands can do a lot of damage to both cow and calf, so it’s important to use it with care.

For the first few days after birth, Shaun keeps a close eye on calves to make sure they are up and stretching and full looking.


Cows and calves are left in individual calving pens for as long as possible before moving back out to a loose, straw-bedded shed. Once the calf hits seven to 10 days, the cow and calf will move back up to a slatted area with a straw-bedded creep area.

Cows are offered the best-quality silage on the farm and 2kg/head/day of concentrates to maintain body condition post-calving.

A new shed built on the farm in 2022 has meant there isn’t as much pressure on housing in springtime, especially if it’s a late spring. Calves are dehorned around 10 days of age.

Anaesthetic and a painkiller injection are given at dehorning. It’s at this point that they get their first shot of pneumonia vaccine. Two weeks after this, the calves get their first shot of clostridial vaccine.

Then, two weeks later, they get their second shot of pneumonia vaccine and the first shot of IBR vaccine. Two weeks after that, they get their booster shot of clostridial vaccine.

Calving progress

Thirty-three cows have calved so far in 2024 on Tullamore Farm, with very little issues to report.

Calving started on 29 January.

Two calves have been lost so far; the first had an intestinal issue with the other being lost at calving. March is the busiest month for calving with 40 cows due to calve in the next month.

Once weather conditions improve and ground dries up, cows and calves will be turned out to sheltered paddocks in small groups.

Calving on Tullamore Farm. \ Philip Doyle