While many of the Teagasc Agricultural colleges around the country have been winding down their suckler enterprises in recent years, the Kildalton suckler herd held steadfast and is up there with some of the best performing suckler herds in the country. Hundreds of beef farmers attended the suckler beef open day in Kildalton last Friday in blistering heat.

Many of them were past students and host farmers who came to wish well known John O’Connor a happy retirement after 40 years working in Teagasc. For the last number of years, he was central in progressing the suckler unit to where it is today. The 41ha unit (101 acres) is home to 51 cows in a suckler to beef system.

The grassland stocking rate for the unit is 207 kg/organic N/Ha or 2.7 L.U/Ha. The Kildalton herd has focused on breeding high replacement index cows in recent years, with the replacement index of the herd now standing at €130.

The 2023 calving interval was 365 days, with a calves per cow figure of one. Calving spread was 12 weeks with a mean calving date of 12 February along with a 1.6% mortality rate.

The 2023 born calves were weaned on 24 August 2023, with bull calves weighing 288kg (1.21 kg/day since birth) and the heifer calves weighing 282kg (1.15 kg/day since birth).

The majority of the male calves are finished as under 16 month bulls with the heifers finished off grass at 20-22months. There are also seven-eight bullocks finished from the herd each year.

Ten homebred replacements are inseminated to easy calving Limousin bulls (LM2014) and calved down at 24 months each year. Other sires used in 2023 include BB5523, LM5611, CWI, EBY and SI4147.

A vasectomised bull is used to aid heat detection. A terminal Charolais bull (Pottlereagh Noah) is used for the last six weeks of the breeding season. Eight 2021 born bullocks were slaughtered in spring 2023.

They averaged 380.1 kg carcase weight (58.5%) kill out and came into €2,068.16 (€5.43/kg). Twenty-two spring 2021 born heifers were slaughtered in autumn 2022 at an average carcase weight of 315kg (56% kill out) with six grading U, 14 grading R and one O grade. Twenty-eight 2022 born suckler bulls were slaughtered in 2023.

They averaged 393kg deadweight (59.3% kill out) and came into €2,133/head (€5.43/kg). The farm achieved a gross margin of €1,812/Ha in 2022 with the net margin coming in at €1,195/Ha excluding direct payments.

The Kildalton team put the high performance down to correcting soil fertility over the last few years from 24% of soils optimum for soil fertility to 75% of soils optimum for soil fertility. They have also reduced chemical N application to 155kg/N/Ha and increased grass grown from 10 tonne/Ha to 12 tonne/Ha.