The beef and sheep development centre at Greenmount’s Abbey Farm will host a virtual farm tour on Thursday 13 August, starting at 8pm.

The event will be streamed online using the Webex platform and will be open to all farmers.

You can register for the event by clicking here before 5pm Wednesday 12th August.

The event will include a series of pre-recorded video footage of the suckler cows and calves

BETTER Farm NI adviser Darryl Boyd will join CAFRE assistant farm manager Lindsay Mawhinney, to outline all developments on the farm during 2020.

These include a summary of all breeding activity, calving performance, a review of 2019-born bulls finished during May and June, grassland management in 2020 and how excellent silage quality is achieved.

In addition, the event will include a series of pre-recorded video footage of the suckler cows and calves.

Herd details

The 120ha Abbey Farm carries a suckler herd of 90 spring-calving Stabiliser cows, run alongside 180 store cattle originating from CAFRE’s hill farm, and 200 lowland ewes.

As a participating farm in the BETTER Farm NI programme, herd performance is benchmarked annually, with gross margin in 2019 amounting to £958/ha.

The farm is heavily stocked at 2.42 cow equivalents per hectare. Despite this, continuous improvements to grassland management have allowed the herd to expand further.

During the breeding season in May and June, 114 cows and replacement heifers were served, with the target of settling at 100 calves weaned annually from next year on.


The herd makes use of superior genetics through the use of artificial insemination (AI) to improve cattle performance. The herd’s stock bulls are also selected based on Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) at the top end of the breed.

Cows are predominantly Stabiliser breeding and makes use of AI through fixed time breeding programmes.

To facilitate the use of AI, a selection of cows and replacements were bred using a fixed-time AI programme this summer.

A total of 84 cows and heifers out of 114 have been bred to the programme, with stock bulls then used for repeats.

Bull beef

All male progeny born on-farm are finished as young bulls. The 2019 spring-born bulls slaughtered to-date in 2020 were finished at an average age of 453 days, or approximately 14.5 months old.

All male progeny are finished as bulls. This year, bulls were slaughtered at 14.5 months with carcase weight averaging 395kg.

Carcase weights have averaged 395kg, giving a carcase gain of 0.88kg/day from birth until slaughter. Bulls typically graded U-3+ at slaughter and were finished on a maximum concentrate intake of 8kg/day.

High-quality silage was fed to bulls throughout winter, to limit concentrate intakes.

First-cut silage was harvested on 14 May this year, and feed quality is exceptional at 78% D-Value.

Time to calculate fodder stocks for winter

With second-cut silage harvested, the programme farmers will carry out fodder budgets during August, to make sure adequate feed is in place for the winter period.

Where crops of first-cut silage had lower than normal yields due to the lack of soil moisture, the general consensus from the programme farmers is that second-cut bulked out well and addressed any potential deficit.

Surplus grass has also been removed from the grazing platform, increasing winter fodder supplies.

Where a fodder budget completed in August shows a potential deficit, there is still time to take action by taking out additional bales over the remainder of the season.

To complete a fodder budget, there are a few basic steps to follow.

Calculate how much silage is in the pit: To calculate how much silage is in the pit, measure the length, width and average height of the clamp in metres. Multiply all three measurements to get the cubic capacity.

To convert this to tonnes of silage, multiply the capacity of the pit by 0.64 for silage at 30% dry matter. For silage at 35% dry matter, multiply by 0.53.

Silage bales: Calculate how much silage is in bale form. Weighing bales is recommended to get an average weight, but if this is not possible, then work to a typical weight of 850kg to 900kg.

Tally up the tonnage of baled silage and add to fodder tonnage in the clamp.

Calculate stock demand: Work out what stock are likely to be carried over during winter and how much silage they are likely to eat each month.

For a dry suckler cow eating around 30kg/day of silage, monthly intakes will be close to 1t/month. For cows in milk, silage intakes will be closer to 1.5t/month.

Weanlings eating 20kg to 25kg/day of silage will consume approximately 0.75t/month, with forward stores eating closer to 1t/month.

Safety buffer: In the event of a wet autumn or late spring, factor in an additional one month of fodder, in case animals have an extended housing period. This reduces the risk of running out of feed.

Is there a surplus or deficit?: If cattle demand exceeds the current tonnage of silage on-farm, then there is a deficit to address. The earlier you complete a fodder budget, the more time you have to address a potential deficit.

While additional fodder can be saved in August or September, other options include restricting silage to cows in good condition, feeding higher levels of concentrate to weanlings, finishing cattle during winter, offloading cull cows early and selling surplus stock.

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