Like many other organisations, the Irish Grassland Association (IGA) had to move to online events, but Tuesday 14 June sees the return of their popular beef conference.

In a change, the conference moves to an open evening style event where Irish Farmers Journal markets and EU specialist Phelim O’Neill will address attendees on the beef market outlook and where costs are going. James Humphries, research officer with Teagasc, will also talk about reducing dependency on chemical nitrogen on beef farms, followed by a farm walk.

Located in Ballyhale, Co Kilkenny, Jimmy Madigan farms some tillage, forestry and 76ha of grassland.

His farm is home to a herd of 100 autumn- and spring-calving cows and their followers.

No stranger to these pages, Jimmy was a previous participant in the Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER farm beef programme.

Jimmy and his wife Ann-Marie are the only labour units on the holding, with plenty of help coming in the years ahead from their children, Hannah, Jim, Kate and Eddie.

The cows and heifers calve from December to March and from August to September each year. Replacements – sired by a maternal Charolais stock bull – are chosen from the crop of heifers and cows that calve in autumn, and the remainder are aimed to be finished at 19-20 months.

Bulls are brought to beef in an under 16-month finishing system, with additional bought-in bulls also being finished in the same system.


Jimmy moved away from steer beef in 2017 in order to grow the breeding herd on the farm, as the under 16-month bull system leads to bulls been wintered for one season only.

Furthermore, a good relationship with a dairy farming neighbour allows Jimmy to purchase Limousin dairy cross yearling heifers each year, which he calves down in the autumn to the maternal Charolais stock bull. These heifers then enter his spring-calving herd.

He also uses Limousin AI on his home-bred autumn-born heifers, and these calve in the springtime. Two terminal Charolais stock bulls are run with the spring herd during the breeding season. While this breeding strategy may differ from the norm, it is something that has worked well for Jimmy down through the years.

In 2021, the farm’s calving interval stood at 369 days, with an impressive 0.9 calves/cow/year. For Jimmy, focusing on cows that have an ample supply of milk to feed their calves and utilising as much grass as possible has been the key to success.


The herd is grazed in an 18-paddock system – operating in a ‘grow in three weeks, eat in three days’ approach. The paddocks are serviced by excellent roadways, which make the route to pasture as labour-free as possible.

With an early turnout in spring, Jimmy takes advantage of the long grazing season prior to weaning. Pre-weaning, spring-born bulls are creep-fed, while heifers are fed no meal.

Jimmy Madigan.

Bulls are then housed in November, with heifers continuing to graze until weather forces housing. In 2021, bulls had an average daily gain to 200 days of 1.32kg/day, while their heifer comrades had an average daily gain of 1.2kg/day.

While grazed grass is Jimmy’s number one priority during the growing season, excellent-quality silage is harvested to ensure high growth rates during the winter and finishing period.

He maintains that without excellent-quality grass silage, the under-16-month bull system would be hard to operate. Last year’s silage crop came back at 76% DMD when tested, allowing the weanlings to achieve a 0.75kg/day growth rate for the first two months of housing.


Regular weighing complements the beef system and once bulls hit the target weight of 480kg, they are moved into the finishing regime. In terms of slaughter, 2021-killed bulls had an average carcase weight of 425kg, while the heifers averaged 347kg, with 89% of the feed coming from grass or grass silage.

The same land is never cut year-on-year and ground earmarked for silage is grazed off early in the year, with 2,500 gallons/ac of slurry applied.

At the start of March, chemical fertiliser is applied and – once the weather allows in May – it is harvested. Reseeding, along with keeping soil fertility at optimal levels, has also played a pivotal role on the farm over the years, with most ground reseeded in the last decade. Jimmy is now ready to explore the different options available when it comes to optimising nitrogen efficiency and plans to sow clover in 2022.

He believes that for suckler-to-beef farming to be successful, there is a menu of criteria that must come together – number one being grass and top-quality silage.

He also highlights adequate facilities – especially with a bull finishing system – and a fertile, milky cow that can produce and rear a calf every year. Admission to the open evening is free and everyone is welcome. The event will run from 6.30pm to 8.30pm.