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Thursday 3 January, 2013

by Rosemary at 1:09pm in Cattle No comments Add your own

Although at Christmas, July seems a long way off, I’d been thinking about how we were going to get our cows in calf in 2013. Both are due to calve mid-June, so we would be trying to get them back in calf from the end of July.

The first time round, in 2011, we decided to use AI, as we weren’t confident about handling a bull. Now with AI, the stockman i.e. me has to detect when the cow is in “standing heat” i.e. willing to accept the bull, then call out the AI technician, who inseminates the cow. Again, as novice keepers, we weren’t confident that we could accurately detect standing heat, so we used PRID sponges, which are impregnated with hormones.

Briefly, these are inserted into the cow (a bit like a tampon) by the vet then removed by the patsy (i.e. me – “stand to the side, they might splash a bit when you pull them out”). The cow then comes into season 48 hours later; AI man comes out, job done. Except our girls hadn’t read the manual; despite the assurances of the AI man that they were bang in heat and despite having them inseminated twice, a few hours apart, neither got in calf.

Cows come into season roughly every 21 days; a pregnancy diagnosis can only be done after 35 days into the pregnancy; so confident was I that the AI had worked that I ignored the signs of season three weeks after the insemination and was bitterly disappointed when the vet told us they were not in calf :-(

This also threw off the aim to have them calve in April.

Now a 21 day cycle is the average; it looked like Blizzard was cycling on 17 days and Breeze on 23, so our effort at synchronization was “oot the windae” after the first cycle. We gave Blizzard another two goes of AI and Breeze another one, then, confidence waning, we took them to another Shetland breeder who had a bull and left them there. Viking, in true Viking style, served Blizzard the day after she arrived. Breeze was clearly in calf to her second AI, so was there simply as company. Both PD’d in calf, but now due a month apart in May and June 2012.

We tried a different method in 2012; we decided AI was too difficult and hired a bull. Billy Bull came from Peterhead, so we brought him down, ran him with the cows for six weeks (two cycles) but the job was done in the first couple of weeks; both cows are PD’d in calf and are due four days apart in mid-June. We used nifty things called KAMAR heat detectors – similar to raddle in sheep, except a wee container of dye is stuck to the cow’s back and gets broken when the bull mates her. It’s really for the detection of heat prior to AI, but it worked fine for us in these circumstances. We used two for each cow and they cost a pound or two.

Neither of these methods is free. With AI, there’s the cost of the semen – about £10 a straw; the semen storage – about £6/7 a month (even for one straw L) and the cost of the technician. The synchronisation would have saved money on technician charges if it had worked, but it was quite costly in itself. With the bull hire, there’s the hire charge, the cost of transport, insurance (if you don’t already have it) and any health testing you or the bull’s owner may want done. I’ll look up the costs sometime soon – but take my word for it, it’s not free. Whether or not you get the vet to PD your cow is a matter of personal choice – personally, I like to know.

So I was weighing up the various options when I saw a red and white bull calf for sale on the SCBA website. I tell you – it was serendipity. A flurry of emails and we’ve paid the deposit on Hollins Storm.

Hollins Storm, Shetland BullShetland bull - Hollins Storm

He’s August 2012 born, so his sap should be suitably risen by the end of July – if they’re big enough, they’re old enough :-)

His breeder was kind enough to let us pick the name – so Breeze, Blizzard and Santa Ana will be joined by Storm hopefully at the end of February.

So our first venture into bull keeping has begun. We’re really only happy to do this because we have grazing elsewhere. One of the issues with Shetland cattle is that they are sexually mature early – it’s not THAT unusual for heifers to calve at fifteen months, although it’s far from ideal. The additional grazing will allow us to keep Storm away from any heifer calves we have born in 2013 until we actually want him to cover them at 15 months or so.

The plan is to use him in 2013 and 2014, then stick him in the freezer before he’s 30 months old. This may seem a bit harsh, but we don’t want too many calves from him as it can contribute to in-breeding. So a short life but a happy one – and lots of photos to follow.

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