'Every cow is a working cow'- no passengers on Cork farm
Owen Cashman reports from Billy and Niall Nicholson’s farm, which hosted the Carrigaline IFA farm walk, covering BDGP, drought management and good farm practices.

The farm has 92ha of grassland which is stocked at 2.22 LU/ha. The land is feeling the effects of drought. Stock was one day away from grazing second-cut silage when the visitors arrived.

“The crop is static and will start melting away soon if not used," said Billy. They have two of the three silage pits filled and are hopeful for a good second cut.

Bulls, aged 17 months, on the Nicholson farm, average weight was 640 kg on 28 June.


Livestock on the farm are 120 suckler cows plus replacement stock. The average livestock units in the herd last year were 207. The beef output per LU on the Nicholson farm is 395kg. Bulls are taken to under-16-month beef, but there are 21 animals housed indoors currently at 17 months due to the lack of grass this year. They are to be slaughtered in three weeks' time.


Calving season begins in December and finishes in March. Currently the calf-to-cow ratio is 0.97. All the heifers are calved at 22-26 months and the herd's six-week calving rate is 83%. Niall and Billy emphasised they are a commercial herd, so cows not rearing a calf are culled. It costs €480.30 to feed a suckler cow on the farm. Keeping an empty cow will cost the farm €5,600, so they just don’t do it.


Billy and Niall are part of the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP). According to Billy he “can’t justify buying a bull without the figures to back him up”. Forty cows were put in calf to AI last year, with five stock bulls running with the herd thereafter. Niall accepted there are fluctuations in the BDGP system, but that’s just part of it.

Farm walk? Attendees of the farm walk were well looked after, as all transport costs were covered.

Bulls are picked with maternal and terminal traits taking priority. Niall is fond of the Saler breed as “they have a good, square frame, and they can take hard-calving bulls as by nature they have a wider pelvis - they have the data to back them up now as well”.


This year the farm is growing 18ha of fodder beet for winter feed. Fodder beet is doing reasonably well this year as it soaks up sunshine. In April 30ha of spring barley was planted on the farm. They see a significant difference in fields where sowing date differentiated by a few days. Moss peat will be used as an alternative to straw bedding this year.

“We can go through up to 700 bales of straw in a winter and we simply won’t have it this year,” said Niall.

In the video below Niall discusses the farm system and the challenges the sector will face in the coming years.

Read More

Stabilisers working on Tipperary farm

In pictures: getting grass growing in Ballyroan

Ringside comment: drought hits buyer activity

Queally beef barons pay themselves a €9m dividend
The Waterford family own the Arrow Group, which paid out €9m in dividends to its shareholders for 2017.

The well-known Queally family from Co Waterford, who are part-owners of beef processer Dawn Meats, received a dividend of €9m for last year. Accounts filed this week for the 2017 financial year of Arrow Group, a company controlled by the Queally family, show the dividend payout to shareholders totaled some €9m. No dividend was paid to shareholders the previous year.

The Arrow Group is really just the holding company for the wide array of businesses the Queally family has built up over the years. The controlling directors in Arrow are John Queally (80), Peter Queally (78) and Michael Queally (55), who between them have directorships in close to 250 other companies.

Operating profits

Arrow Group, which has interests in meat processing, food solutions, property and even bottled water, reported pre-tax profits of €31.5m for 2017 – a 16% decline compared to last year. Operating profits in the business also fell 16% in the year to €32.6m, as profit margins tightened from 7.8% in 2016 to a still very healthy 6% in 2017.

Arrow said the drop in profits was a result of increased raw material prices in 2017, while a stronger euro relative to sterling and rising labour costs also negatively impacted.

Despite the currency headwind, sales for the year grew by 9% to reach €545.1m, which the group attributed to “key customer wins”. Arrow’s net debt position at year end stood at €57.4m, which is an increase of more than €10m on last year. Interestingly, the company said it spent an impressive €7.5m on R&D and new product development.

Read more

Profits jump to €38m for Queally-owned Arrow Group

Excellent stock on show at Galway BETTER farm open day
Part-time suckler farmer and BETTER farm participant Nigel O’Kane welcomed 250 people to the first of two open day walks taking place on his farm on Thursday

A large crowd of approximately 250 people attended the first of two farm walks taking place on Nigel O’Kane’s farm near Athenry in Co Galway on Thursday.

Nigel is farming a 27-strong continental type herd of cows on 25ha of free-draining land, all while running a full-time plumbing business. The farm is very typical of those found in the west of Ireland, with it being highly fragmented and consisting of many small fields surrounded by stone walls.

When discussing Nigel’s farming system and targets for the BETTER farm programme, Nigel admitted that meeting the ambitions profit and stocking rate targets would be challenging given this years difficult conditions. However, he said the overall targets will stay the same and it may just take a little longer.

The grassland, breeding, dairy calf-to-beef and fodder boards generated a good amount of discussion between host farmer Nigel, the speaker and the audience members. Nigel’s exceptionally well-bred herd of cows also attracted a lot of attention from the crowd

Autumn mart trade

Also speaking at the event, Athenry Mart manager Alan Barry said that the outlook for this autumn’s weanling trade looked mainly positive. “I don’t think there is much concern for the bull trade because there is still a steady demand from exporters,” he said. However, he went on to say that “the heifer weanling trade looks like it will be more challenging than it was last year.”

Barry also said that Athenry Mart hasn’t seen a huge drop in quality. "The quality of the suckler herd hasn’t reduced around Athenry, there is possibly a few extra calves but we don’t see a huge influx.” Early signs are pointing towards a trade of €2.70/kg for good continental weanling bulls.

In quotes

On average you’re looking at three to four hours per day to run this farm. The secret to my system is keeping it simple

– Nigel O’Kane, host farmer.

We talked a lot about targets - without growing more grass it won’t be possible to meet targets

– Tommy Cox, BETTER Farm advisor, Teagasc.

My ideal cow is around 650kg, with milk, calves every year and has a good calf

– Nigel O’Kane, host farmer.

I don’t see much concern about the trade for bull weanlings because of a steady demand from exporters. The weanling heifer trade will be more challenging than it was last year

– Alan Barry, Athenry Mart manager.

In tweets

For more on Nigel O’Kane’s BETTER farm open day, see next Tuesday’s BETTER farm update online here

Read more

Simplicity the key as large crowd attend Wicklow BETTER Farm open day

BETTER Farm: tapping into potential in Galway